Indian Decade

Singh: Gilani a Man of Peace

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described Pakistan’s premier as a man of peace. Was now a good time?

While there’s nothing wrong with India and Pakistan smoking the peace pipe, as they have done this time in the Maldives, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to have taken his doctrine of unilateral positivity over Pakistan a bit too far.

In his joint press statement with Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani, Singh described Gilani as “a man of peace.” Singh’s magnanimity in issuing this certificate to Gilani is sure to kick off a storm of protest from the opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 

Singh would have done well to steer clear of the Pakistan landmine and to have kept the fate of BJP veteran L.K. Advani in mind before making such a sweeping remark. After all, Advani’s plunge in stature within the BJP started after he controversially praised Pakistan founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah as “secular.”

India’s political classes will find Singh’s statement particularly hard to digest as just a few minutes before Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that there was no “credible evidence” against Jamaat ud Daawa founder Hafiz Saeed over his alleged involvement in the Mumbai 26/11 terror attacks.

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Speaking at the summit, Singh also argued that “the destinies of the people of India and Pakistan are very closely linked, interlinked (and) we have wasted lot of time in the past in acrimonious debates.” He stressed that the time has come to write a new chapter in the history of the Indo-Pakistan relationship, and added that Gilani fully endorses this view.

Both Singh and Gilani also observed that the next round of talks will be more productive and far more results oriented in trying to bring the two countries closer to each other. Gilani said that he and Singh discussed all key issues, including terrorism.

With luck, and setting aside Singh’s excessive enthusiasm, India and Pakistan can look forward to more meaningful engagement in the coming months, but only if the Singh government is able to overcome the inevitable backlash from his “man of peace” remarks.

There should, of course, be no harm in praising Pakistan’s leaders. The question, though, is how much and how soon is acceptable? Would Singh have been better off waiting for a more substantive meeting, for example?

The coming days will prove whether Singh really has acted like a statesman, or has merely tied himself up in knots.