| Vajpayee at IGI airport in Delhi after his return from Thailand on Sunday. (AFP)
Chiang Mai (Thailand), Oct. 12: On the eve of a crucial trade dialogue among South Asian nations, India has expressed hope that Pakistan will do enough to allow forward movement on both the preferential and free trade arrangements in the region.
However, Delhi could not stop itself from taking potshots at Washington for pursuing “double standards” on the issue of democracy — having no qualms about doing business with General Pervez Musharraf’s regime in Islamabad but demanding immediate political reforms from the junta in Myanmar.
Officials of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation are meeting in Kathmandu from tomorrow to finalise the draft on the preferential trade arrangement and the free trade area agreement. Recent talks on these issues had got bogged down because of Islamabad’s refusal to normalise trade relations with India.
The leadership in Delhi had made it clear that if trade talks fail, the forthcoming summit in Pakistan will have little meaning. This had sparked speculation that unless existing hurdles were removed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee might not travel to Islamabad in January.
However, it was clear that India would not like to pre-judge Pakistan before tomorrow’s trade talks. “We hope Pakistan will take necessary steps on both the preferential and free trade area agreements,” foreign minister Yashwant Sinha said.
But this did not stop him from chiding the US for not pulling up Pakistan on not doing enough to combat terrorism as well as bring in democratic reforms in the country.
“There are some countries who are shedding tears over lack of democracy in Myanmar,” Sinha said, without mentioning the US or other western nations. “But we always maintained that you cannot have double standards on such issues,” the foreign minister said in a clear reference to Washington’s growing cosy relations with Islamabad.
Sinha pointed out that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has a key role to play in Myanmar and this has been brought up several times by Delhi during its interaction with the military rulers in Yangon. The foreign minister seemed to go along with the “road map” agreed on by the Asean leaders at their recent summit in Bali on bringing political reforms in Myanmar.
He made it clear that though as the “largest democracy in the world” India wanted democracy everywhere else, it does not share the view that it could be imposed from outside or accept that one could be selective about it.
Sinha’s anger over Pakistan and disappointment with the US became clear from his comments on the developments of Afghanistan where Taliban elements were said to be regrouping and engaged in fights with the armed forces of the Hamid Karzai government.
“We have expressed concerns over these developments with countries that are involved in the security of Afghanistan,” he said. But he was quick to add: “Countries like Pakistan, which act under duress to fight terrorists, always tried to do their minimum.”
The foreign minister’s criticism was not limited to the US alone, but extended to Israel. He said India was keeping a close watch on the situation in West Asia, specially the armed engagement between Israel and Syria.
Vajpayee is scheduled to visit Syria next month to re-affirm Delhi’s close links with the country.