Mukherjee defends Indo-Pak joint statement, opposition walks out

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New Delhi, July 30 (ANI): Even as the ruling UPA emphatically and vociferously defended the signing of the recent India-Pakistan joint statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led opposition walked out of the Lok Sabha on Thursday afternoon, specifically protesting on the issue of Balochistan and the delinking of terror from the composite dialogue process.

Defending Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's stand on the statement, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was an external Affairs Minister not too long ago, said India's foreign policy was an extension of national interest, and New Delhi had not compromised on this at any stage in the past or at the recent Red Sea resort summit meeting.

"Our stand on terror remains undiluted. Our country's foreign policy is not based on the whims of one political party. We have not compromised India's sovereignty," said a highly charged Mukherjee in spite of constant heckling from the opposition benches.

Stating that India's foreign policy is of nearly 5000 years standing, Mukherjee echoed Dr. Singh's stand on the joint statement saying that it was necessary.

"Pakistan must dismantle the terror mechanism operating from its soil. India is not interested in Balochistan. The reference to Balochistan in the Indo-Pak Joint statement was a unilateral mention by Pakistan," Mukherjee added.

In apparent reference to an opposition jibe that the present government was made to ink the joint statement in Egypt because of pressure from Washington, Mukherjee said there was no pressure from anyone or any country.

The opposition BJP took on the government saying that they did not believe that the UPA felt that foreign policy was an extension of national interest.

Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani asked what was the need for the government of the day to agree to have Balochistan mentioned for the first time in a joint statement by India and Pakistan?

Endorsing former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha's warning that India would find it very difficult to live down this particular aspect of the joint statement for years to come, Advani said it was not enough to say that New Delhi's hands were clean on the issue. He said the government's reply did not justify the inclusion of Balochistan in the statement.

When External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna endorsed the Prime Minister and Mr. Mukherjee's stands on the joint statement and on the issues of terror and Balochistan, the BJP said there was no point in participating in the debate any further and walked out.

The government's defence of the joint statement came after Congress President Sonia Gandhi and party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi came out in full support of Manmohan Singh.

Addressing the meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) here on Thursday, Sonia said, "The party fully supports and welcomes the Prime Minister's reply on the Indo-Pak joint statement."

"Talks with Pakistan can resume once it actually takes action on terror and not allow its soil to be used for anti-India activities," she added.

Supporting the Prime Minister's statement, Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari said: "The party had made its stand very clear on PM's reply. I don't think that after the Party President has spoken, there is any need for anyone to add or subtract from it."

Several parliamentarians complimented Dr. Singh for his convincing speech in the Parliament on the Indo-Pak joint statement, at the dinner hosted by Sonia Gandhi for the party MPs on Wednesday.

Party General Secretary Rahul Gandhi also praised Dr. Singh by describing his speech as convincing.

"The speech was very good and the Prime Minister is always convincing," Rahul had said.

Intervening in Wednesday's debate on the Indo-Pak joint statement in the parliament, Singh said it was "in our vital interest to make sincere efforts to live in peace with Pakistan" and emphasized that India wanted good relations with Pakistan.

Singh said: "Unless we talk directly to Pakistan, we will have to rely on third parties to do so. That route has severe limitations as to its effectiveness".

He, however, added that "despite the best of intentions, we cannot move forward if terrorist attacks launched from Pakistani soil continue to kill and injure our citizens, here and abroad. That is the national position." (ANI)

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