Stress on peace with Pak

Jaipur, Jan. 18: The dominant view at the Congress Chintan Shivir today was that the engagement with Pakistan should continue in the interests of peace.

Although some speakers stressed the need to define the "minimum response" Islamabad was required to make as a condition for friendly ties, there was no support for any kind of military action in retaliation for Pakistani troops' recent beheading of an Indian jawan in Jammu.

"There were some views that Pakistan should be conveyed in strong terms that such behaviour was intolerable and some even wanted some response from Islamabad, but nobody wanted us to drop these options and go to war," external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said after daylong discussions on "India and the World".

"There is nobody in the party who does not want good relations with Pakistan or any other neighbour."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who spent most of his time at this discussion, too explained the importance of engaging with Pakistan though he accepted that the neighbour had not adequately responded to India's friendly overtures.

He hoped that the strengthening of Pakistan's democratic process in time would further the peace process. Ruling out a war, he reaffirmed his commitment to peace and desire to help the democratic forces across the border.

The position paper on foreign affairs distributed at the session too rued that Pakistan had often behaved irresponsibly and that relations remained largely strained, but stressed a peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Rashid Alvi and Saifuddin Soz said a tough message was needed to dissuade Pakistan from such barbaric acts but they too were opposed to war or even a limited military strike.

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi did not attend the foreign affairs discussion but will be there tomorrow. Sonia spent most of her time today with the women's empowerment group and Rahul spent his at the debate on political challenges.

At the political affairs debate, most speakers were against alliances. Bengal found special mention, with leaders accusing Mamata Banerjee of using the Congress to grab power only to dump it later. They asked the high command to never align with Mamata again.

The discussions were not interactive, and a clearer perception of what the leadership thinks will come later. Rahul did not speak but took notes.

At the discussion on organisational matters, issues such as a party-government disconnect, image crisis and the leadership's apathy towards those who perform in the organisation were raised.

There was resentment against ministers who ignored or humiliated party workers.

The discussions will resume at 9.30am tomorrow. All the panel chiefs will prepare reports on the views expressed and place them before the All India Congress Committee session that is to follow.

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