Why India’s offer of talks with Pakistan might not be that bad
So India has offered Pakistan “open-ended talks on all outstanding issues affecting peace and security”, emphasising counter-terrorism, at the level of the foreign secretaries. The offer was made two weeks ago and Pakistan is yet to respond. Also, Siddharth Varadarajan reports that “this is the second time in three months that India has proposed an official-level meeting.” For a government that has been incessantly chanting “dialogue must be resumed”, Islamabad seems reluctant to take up the offer. Now that India’s offer is in public, it will be harder for Pakistan to remain reluctant and continue its chanting.
It is not hard to find fault with the UPA government’s decision to resume bilateral negotiations even as Pakistan continues to brazenly avoid taking action against the instigators of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai. First, the Zardari-Gilani government will project it as yet another political triumph. This will reinforce the state of denial in Pakistani society. Second, the dialogue process itself is unlikely to yield anything substantial in terms of resolving bilateral disputes. The military-jihadi complex has vested interests in creating new disputes—river water sharing, for instance—not in resolving old ones. It is unlikely that the back channel near-deal on Kashmir discussed during General Musharraf’s final months can be concluded now. Third, it will reinforce the military-jihadi complex’s conviction that India does not have credible instruments of retaliation even in the face of highly provocative acts of terrorism like 26/11. This will raise the risks of more such attacks against India.
So was India’s decision foolish? Was it a result of “US pressure”? While the case against resuming the dialogue with Pakistan is solid, there is also a case for it. Why? Because Pakistan has been offering bilateral tensions with India as the excuse for not fighting the taliban in its own territory. The excuse is ridiculous in the presence of nuclear deterrence, but when has logical inconsistency and factual inaccuracy stopped Pakistan? The Obama administration is not without its own sad combination of inexperience and opinionatedness, resulting in some of its quarters taking Pakistani protestations at face value.
It will be much harder for Pakistan to use the excuse if, hey, “open-ended talks on all outstanding issues” are in progress.
There is, however, a caveat. This policy of destroying Pakistan’s excuses—and acting as an anvil—makes sense only if the UPA government has the intention, capacity and will to compel the United States to hammer the military-jihadi complex. If it doesn’t, then, like similar events in history, India’s decision will be nothing other than folly.
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