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India's PM too soft on Pakistan? Opposition says yes.

Opposition party members walk out of parliament over what they say is an unwarranted concession to Pakistan.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 31, 2009

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (r.) shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Yousaf Raza Gilani during a meeting July 16.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters


New Delhi

India's recent extension of an olive branch – more of a twig, really – to Pakistan is stirring strong political opposition at home and doing little to nudge Pakistan's military away from its focus on India as its primary security threat.

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The United States has been hoping that tentative moves toward peace between the two nuclear-armed states would bring more cooperation from Pakistan on defeating the Taliban and stabilizing Afghanistan. Pakistan might be persuaded that it could divert military resources from Kashmir, a territory that India and Pakistan have fought over for decades.

But a controversy that erupted in India this week shows how powerful the obstacles are to incremental progress, let alone ultimate solutions.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani announced earlier this month that they had agreed to delink the issue of terrorism from the broader peace process between the two nations, a symbolically significant concession by India following a deadly attack on Mumbai in November that was carried out by Pakistani nationals.

But that has stirred an outcry against Mr. Singh at home, with political opponents saying he's being too soft on Pakistan. Members of the opposition BJP walked out of India's parliament on Thursday to register their anger on the matter, and BJP leader Yashwant Singh accused the prime minister on Wednesday of "walking into the Pakistan camp."

Pakistan apparently doesn't share the BJP's opinion. An unidentified Pakistani intelligence official told The New York Times shortly after the agreement was announced that India was still a major threat to his country and that "diverting troops from the border with India is out of the question."

The reaction in both country's serves as a reminder that behind Mr. Singh and Mr. Gilani lie powerbrokers opposed to a change in the status quo.

No breakthrough at hand

"Neither government is near a breakthrough on Kashmir," says Teresita Schaffer, former US deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia. "Arguably, postelection, Manmohan Singh would be able to take a political solution public... although the dustup over the communiqué suggests he's going to have wait some while. But Pakistan isn't even close to doing that,'' she says.

Singh defended his position in parliament by explaining that dialogue with Pakistan was the only way forward, "unless we want to go to war."