Slain Lt Colonel Bikramjeet Singh’s mother Lovepreet in Chandigarh. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Sept. 26: A combative Manmohan Singh has told close aides he is determined to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York on September 29 even if it means risking domestic flak after today’s terror attacks on Indian security forces in Jammu.
The Prime Minister is convinced the attacks were orchestrated to sabotage fresh peace efforts the neighbours could kick-start if he meets his Pakistan counterpart this Sunday, officials travelling with Singh to the US have told The Telegraph.
Calling off talks with Sharif after committing to them would both play into the hands of the groups behind the attacks and “seriously” damage his own credibility, Singh has told his aides, the officials said.
“He (Singh) has made it absolutely clear that he is convinced that he must go ahead with talks,” an official said, speaking on the phone. “He knows about the criticism he may face, but he has drawn a line.”
Singh today left Frankfurt, where he stopped over last night, for Washington DC. He will meet President Barack Obama on Friday morning before making the short trip to New York for the UN General Assembly that Sharif is already attending.
In Frankfurt, Singh told aides to cancel celebrations as he turned 81 today. He condemned the “heinous terrorist attack”, offered condolences to victims and dubbed the strikes “one more in a series of provocations and barbaric actions by the enemies of peace” in a statement issued by his office. Terrorism, he said, “continues to receive encouragement and reinforcement from across the border”.
But he, crucially, also said that calling off talks would imply buckling to the engineers of the Jammu terror attacks.
“Such attacks will not succeed in derailing our efforts to find a resolution to all problems through a process of dialogue,” Singh said, effectively cornering India into a position where calling off talks with Sharif would imply failure before terrorists.
The BJP demanded just that --- no talks between Singh and Sharif almost immediately after reports on the terror attacks on a police station and an army camp in Jammu started filtering in this morning.
BJP leader Yashwant Sinha called talks with Pakistan “pointless”, questioning the Sharif government’s ability to deliver on Islamabad’s promises to stop terror strikes against India.
Singh has, in the past, pulled back on major diplomatic overtures to Pakistan under domestic pressure from Opposition parties, despite his personal conviction that talks are the sole solution to the multiple disputes that shadow ties between the two nations 66 years after they were sundered.
But officials point to key differences between those earlier occasions and Singh’s determination this time around.
In 2009, the Congress did not back Singh in the face of BJP criticism when he inked a joint statement with then Pakistan counterpart, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, in the Egyptian coastal town of Sharm el Sheikh, delinking dialogue from “action of terrorism”.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh and junior home minister R.P.N. Singh both indicated support for Singh today. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi appears to have left the decision on meeting Sharif to the Prime Minister, senior diplomats travelling with Singh said.
In July, India had indicated to Pakistan that it was willing to resume the secretary-level talks that were suspended after the beheading of an Indian soldier along the Line of Control in January. That intent, driven by Singh, evaporated after alleged Pakistani troops killed five Indian soldiers along the de-facto border the nations share on August 5.
But unlike July, the Pakistan high commission today condemned the terror strikes in Jammu hours after the attacks began, stressing the need to talk in its statement.