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Cong poser on talks

New Delhi, Aug. 19: The Congress today said the proposed dialogue with Pakistan and not its cancellation was the issue the government needed to explain.

It asked why the government had decided to talk in the first place amid provocations like intensified ceasefire violations, terror attacks in Kashmir, and Pakistan’s “exoneration” of 26/11 accused Hafiz Sayeed.

Since losing power, the Congress has taken a more hawkish position on the issue of engagement with Pakistan and had opposed the proposed foreign secretary talks of August 25.

It today cited how meetings between the Pakistani government and Hurriyat leaders took place regularly in the past although all Indian governments disapproved of the practice.

“Why wait (to cancel the talks) till the separatists meet the Pakistani high commissioner? Hurriyat leaders have been meeting Pakistani envoys even after the Kargil war. They have a photo session, take tea and go,” Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said.

Asked whether the Congress supported such meetings, Sharma said: “No, our government disapproved of it. But we don’t think Hurriyat is authorised to speak on behalf of the Kashmiri people. It is a fragmented body and we don’t recognise it.”

He added: “But we are surprised why the government initiated talks when firing across the border had intensified and Hafiz Sayeed was exonerated. There was an attack in Srinagar in which six jawans were killed. The Prime Minister didn’t say anything then.”

Sharma went on: “The sincerity of the Pakistani establishment is under suspicion on whether they intend to punish the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. Our government suspended the composite dialogue.”

He demanded to know what the “understanding” between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif was when they met in late May.

Sharma asked whether “the entire establishment, which includes the army and (Pakistani spy agency) ISI, was on board for resumption of the dialogue”.

“We are not opposed to talks but the government must disclose what positives it saw for taking this decision,” he said.

It appears the Congress does not want to state its position clearly and is weighing public opinion, which is usually not too favourable towards Pakistan. It doesn’t want to push for the resumption of talks although it believes there is no better option.

The Congress knows the BJP will try to milk the government’s hard line on Pakistan during its campaigns in the upcoming Assembly elections. Most voters are presumed to prefer tough posturing against Pakistan.

So, the party wants to push the BJP into explaining its “turnaround” from being a critic of talks into a sponsor of dialogue (before the eventual cancellation).

“There has to be consistency and a coherent policy in engaging with Pakistan. The BJP took an extreme view and castigated the UPA for any contact with Pakistan,” Sharma said.

“We are only saying the nation is in the dark about what transpired between Modi and Sharif when they met in Delhi. We want to know what prompted the government to resume talks.”