Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday said he does want to go to Pakistan before stepping down but the conditions must be ‘appropriate’.
Addressing a news conference here on Friday‚ he said his visit can lead to a breakthrough in moving forward dialogue process with Pakistan and resolving all outstanding issues between the two countries.
Singh said friendly and peaceful ties between Pakistan and India can guarantee prosperity and development in the region. Good relations between the two countries are mandatory to bring an end to poverty, he added.
In his first press conference this year, Manmohan Singh said he will step down after the next Lok Sabha election and that he would not be candidate for the third term, adding that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has "outstanding credentials" to be nominated the UPA's PM candidate.
Singh also said that BJP leader Narendra Modi will prove to be "disastrous" for India if he were to become the prime minister. "Strength is not presiding over mass massacre of citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad," a usually reticent PM said, referring to the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat.
Manmohan Singh said his country wants to have friendly relations with neighbours with a view to bring peace and stability in the region. Asked why he had not gone to Pakistan since taking office in 2004, the prime minister said he "would very much like to go to Pakistan.
"I was born in a village which is now part of west Punjab. But as prime minister of the country, I should go to Pakistan if conditions are appropriate to achieve solid results. "Ultimately I felt that the circumstances were not appropriate (to visit Pakistan). I still have not given up the hope of going to Pakistan before (giving up office)."
Singh said that South Asian countries now need to give priority to economic and social development to overcome rampant poverty, and good relations between India and Pakistan are very important for realising development.
On missing the bus to strike the peace deal with Pakistan, the Indian prime minister said: “I have tried to improve relations with all our neighbours to the best of my ability. At one time, it appeared that an important breakthrough was in sight. Events in Pakistan, for example, the fact that General Musharraf had to make way for a different setup, I think that led to the process not moving further.”
“But I still believe that good relations between India and Pakistan are very essential for this sub-continent to realise its full development potential, to get rid of poverty, ignorance and disease, which has been the inevitable lot of millions and millions of people in this sub-continent of ours,” Singh added.
This is all a man who claims of investing too much of his political capital on Pakistan can say about Pakistan at the fag end of his tenure. The truth is the Indo-Pak relations will remain in a limbo till new government takes over in India. And yes, it is indeed correct that towards the end of General Pervez Musharraf’s tenure as Pakistan President the two neighbours were close to clinching a couple of historic accords but it could not happen.
Asked to comment on what was the best and the lowest moments for him as PM, his response was as follows: “I will need time to reflect on this. But certainly, the best moment for me was when we (Indians) were able to strike a nuclear deal with the United States to end the nuclear apartheid which had sought to stifle the processes of social and economic change, and technical progress of our country in many ways.”
The nuclear deal happened during his first tenure. It looks like Manmohan Singh’s unsaid confession that his second tenure had no achievement or milestone comparable to the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement.
Manmohan Singh’s press conference serves as a possible indicator of issues that would likely dominate or be on the back burner in the upcoming general elections due to be completed before May. One indication is that foreign policy is taking back seat as India inches closer to general elections and countries like the United States, China and Pakistan won’t have much impact on Indian politics in the 2014 general elections despite pending major issues with each one of these.
The surprising thing in this context is Pakistan. If one goes by the current trends and presuming that no big ticket terror incident takes place till the upcoming general elections, Pakistan is unlikely to be a factor in Indian general elections. If this happens, it will happen perhaps for the first time in decades.
Pakistan has been Banquo’s Ghost in past several Indian general elections, particularly the last one in 2009 which came close on the heels of the Mumbai terror attacks, India’s own 9/11. Since then, India has had a checkered history of terror strikes but none of these has been as big and as ambitious as Mumbai’s 26/11.
India too was not a major factor in Pakistan’s recently concluded general elections.
This may denote the gradual maturing of peoples in India and Pakistan but that is an entirely different subject and a different story.
Confining ourselves to the foreign policy aspects of PM Singh’s press conference, the event was unusually low on the foreign policy content. It is another matter that the actual Q&A session lasted just about an hour and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry botched it up by restricting entry to just about three hundred specially invited.