New Delhi: The lines that caught the most attention when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke on the Indo-Pak joint statement last week in the Lok Sabha were not part of his prepared draft but were added on the floor of the House to drive home his argument.
Key among them was “trust, but verify,” the Ronald Reagan quote which was not part of the prepared draft. Also, the reference to Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a statesman was very much on the spot.
Singh, in fact, made Reagan’s quote a template of sorts for his government’s approach towards neighbours, particularly Pakistan. “Let me say that in the affairs of two neighbours we should recall what President Reagan once said—trust but verify. There is no other way unless we go to war,” said the PM, deviating from the text in an attempt to give an effective response to BJP leader Yashwant Sinha’s provocation on whether Pakistan can be trusted.
The Prime Minister made more than a half a dozen improvisations in the text, which included calling his predecessor a statesman. “But to his great credit, Shri Vajpayee was not deterred, as a statesman should not be. In 2004, he went to Islamabad, where a joint statement was issued to set out a vision for a cooperative relationship. I must remind the House that opposition parties supported these bold steps. I, for one, share Shri Vajpayee’s vision, and I have also felt the frustration in dealing with Pakistan.”
The other important on-the-spot improvisation was to cite the example of US and Iran where he brings to bear his view on why it is important to talk. “As neighbours it is our obligation to keep our channels open. Look at what is happening in the world. US and Iran have been sworn enemies for 30 years and yet they feel compelled to enter into a dialogue. Unless we want to go to war with Pakistan, dialogue is the only way out. But we should do so on the basis of trust but verify.”
The Prime Minister spoke twice about the extreme scenario of going to war and both these references were extempore, said sources. While in the House for two hours listening to opposition leaders, Singh is said to have reworked the first two paragraphs of his speech where he makes it clear that he stands by the “national position” of not being able to move forward on peace efforts with Pakistan if terrorist attacks continue to be launched from its soil.
Besides this, he introduced the point about self-dependence on security matters into his speech as he sought to counter Mulayam Singh Yadav’s criticism of India not having many friends in its neighbourhood and beyond. “The reality is that despite all the friends we have. When it comes to national security and defence, we will have to depend on ourselves. Self help is the best help”.