By Manish Chand, IANS,
On Board Air India One : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s blunt message to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari within earshot of reporters in Yekaterinburg was an astutely choreographed move aimed at critics back home who might see the meeting as a softening of India’s stance.
“The message was aimed at hawks back home who might be tempted to elevate the meeting into a resumption of the (sub-continental) dialogue and use it to portray it as a sign of the government’s weakness,” said an official source, who did not want to be named.
“There is nothing unstructured when the two leaders meet,” said the official.
Moments after shaking hands with the Pakistani leader in the Hotel Hyatt Regency in Yekaterinburg Tuesday, Manmohan Singh told Zardari that India expected that Pakistani territory would not be used for terrorist activities against India.
“I am very happy to meet you,” he told Zardari in front of hordes of journalists who had gathered for a photo-op of the first meeting between the two leaders since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks that India has blamed on elements operating in Pakistan.
In an apparent departure from protocol, Manmohan Singh seized the opportunity to convey what an official called a “front-loaded message”.
“But I must tell you quite frankly that I have come with the limited mandate of discussing how Pakistan can deliver on its assurances that its territory would not be used for terrorists attacks on India,” Manmohan Singh told Zardari.
An embarrassed Zardari, dressed in a back suit, was taken aback by the soft-spoken leader’s candid remarks and had to request Manmohan Singh to let journalists go before they could begin their talks.
The message is also seen as an attempt to mobilise the support of the international community against terrorism from Pakistan amid a growing perception that the western powers were losing interest after expressing outrage over the Mumbai carnage seven months ago.
Indian officials, accompanying the prime minister to Russia on a three-day visit, pointed to the prime minister’s statement in parliament June 9 when he said he was willing to meet Pakistan more than half way if it took strong and sincere action against anti-India terror emanating from its territory.
Disclosing the details of his meeting with Zardari, Manmohan Singh Wednesday said he told the president to show the same “sincerity and determination” in dealing with anti-India terror as Islamabad has shown in dealing with the Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
He also stressed that he had agreed to Zardari’s request to give Islamabad “some more time” to take action against anti-India terror outfits before they meet again in Egypt mid-July and decide on a resumption of the stalled composite dialogue between the two countries.