Talk time

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.

Related Post: Operation Markarap

23 thoughts on “Talk time”

  1. The “idea” of talking is good, no denying. But once we get into specifics, problems galore crop up! Leave aside, what we will talk and to whom we will talk – this latest initiative is just stuck at what we want to name the talks as!

    Agree that Pak can now no longer say it will not act against taliban or any other terrorist group now that we agreed to talk, but I dont think that our present political establishment to pressurize the US to pressurize Pak.

    I guess the timing is just bad. Hoping it wont result in yet another folly.

    – Sudhir

  2. “excuse for not fighting the taliban in its own territory”
    is certainly not the excuse they have provided..since Pak’s official excuse is it cant battle on all fronts. Why the hell would Pak shake-up hornet nest of HQN,LeT & QST if these guys are not attacking Pakistan. I frankly dont see any merit in any dialogue wat so ever..until we can aggressively develop “pressure points and counter-pressure points” as Vikram Sood sir has pointed out.
    What do we have..that we hav in bargain that..Pak needs…
    What we need to do is we should have that Pak also inturn ask us for “peace”. until “peace process” is about peace for both sides..dialogue is a farce..

  3. “If it doesn’t, then, like similar events in history, India’s decision will be nothing other than folly.”

    Remembering history, where’s your money on this Nitin? Will we triumph – or end up looking stupid?

  4. has it occurred to anyone, that maybe, just maybe, america might actually NOT WANT pakistan to cease support for terror in india?

    besides, agree with kannan — its not so much the pakistani position, more the position of the western media and it’s ‘sources’ and ‘experts’ on why pakistan wont fight taliban/mjc.

  5. If your only rationale for welcoming the talks is that it takes away the Pakistani excuse of quoting India threat, I think it doesn’t hold for three reasons –
    1) We know and as you mentioned in your post – Logic or sanity doesn’t apply with pakistan and Every one knows it. They will produce 10 such reasons/excuses the moment you resolve one.
    2) The official reason quoted for not taking on North waziristan operations was to consolidate the gains made in south w, swat etc and they didn’t mince any words on that, in-spite of Mr Gates being on a visit that time.
    3)Moreover from India’s point of view, why do we even have to care whether Pakistan takes on Taliban or not? Thats US’s headache. As long as our “clear and present danger” candidates – Lashkar,JuD are intact, Pakistan taking on Haqqani doesn’t mean anything substantial to us. For US by forcing talks, they are probably throwing a bone or the proverbial carrot at Pakistan that they can “influence” India to make concessions on Kashmir and move a inch/mile closer to get their dirty work done in return and pack up in Afpak.
    As I have argued in EP’s post – “Actually by not entering into talks, we are indicating that our threshold of tolerance has reached its limit and any further attack may result in a war. I strongly feel that has been one of the reasons, why there were no attacks since 26/11 . Pakistan only wants to exploit the India threat as an excuse and self sustenance, but actually doesn’t have the stomach to face a war that too at the peak of their internal trouble. That is exactly the reason why India should call Pakistan’s bluff by carefully calibrating our threat of war to the highest level to keep it in good behavior. There are always other ways than actual war to keep up this pressure (Prof Vaidyanathan has elucidated some of those tactics quite brilliantly before.)”

  6. How many times have we been here before and how does the outcome become different this time around?
    When will Pakistan actually want to do something for itself in order to save itself as a nation rather than use India as an excuse to protect its Jihadi Military institutions?
    Our stance should have been very clear – book the perpetrators of 26/11 and then lets think about talks.
    Also haven’t we been talking for over 60 years in some way shape or form?
    Haven’t seen any outcome to that…

  7. Shantanu & Huviskha,

    The odds are on foolish. But it would be poor analysis to fail to identify the conditions under which it might not be foolish.

  8. Hi Nitin:

    I think the result of the talks is likely to be foolish as well, but I rather doubt that the PMO can sell any ‘solution’ to the Indian voting public that involves significant concessions by India (along the lines, say, of ‘joint sovereignty’ over J&K).

    Of course, one is dealing with the Indian political class, so anything is possible. If, e.g., American interest in ‘solving’ J&K leads to the handing out of lollipops to the Indian political elite
    (a UNSC seat, admission to the NPT etc.), as advocated by Jonathan Tepperman in the Feb 5 issue of Newsweek, the GOI may ‘roll over’ on J&K, regardless of Indian public opinion. Indeed, Sumit Ganguly is quoted to that effect by Tepperman in the Newsweek article. The Newsweek article (‘The Road to Kabul Runs Through Kashmir’) is available at

    However, absent that sort of offer, the memory of the outcry over Sharm-al-Sheikh is likely to restrain the PM from giving away the store. In addition, any deal the PMO negotiates will be vetted by Sonia Gandhi–Rahul Gandhi’s and the Congress party’s fortunes are at stake, and Mrs. Gandhi is not likely to consider a wintry December visit to Oslo for the current PM as an acceptable consolation prize for losses on the political front for the Congress party.


  9. Indo-Pak relations have entered a vicious cycle. All talks end up in a disagreement over Kashmir followed by a spate of terror attacks after which we stop talking for a while, then gradually – starting with singers then followed by cricket we start interacting which culminates in a grand “Talk” which ends up in a disagreement over Kashmir.

  10. I have no problem with talking to Pakis. We cannot cheat, deceive, lie to them, lull them into a false sense of security, if we don’t talk to them.
    Even reiterating that no concessions are forthcoming from India is enough to destabilize their pathetic political scene.
    All posters here seem to think that talking betrays our good intentions towards Pakis. I disagree. Talks can be a weapon of offence.

    You should consider that India may want to keep Pakistan destabilized, even at the risk of additional terror strikes.

  11. @ sanjay — good point, except its not so much a vicious circle as a carefully choreographed charade orchestrated by the mombati army on both sides. some times you wonder if these secular-liberals will ever get over their collegeboy and collegegirl faux-idealist hangovers.

  12. Acorn,
    Why wud India wind-up after some flimsy threat of US travel advisory. I just dont get it. Pak dont budge on Afghan Taliban even when it is completely bankrolled by US!! That chutzpa needs to be complimented as opposed to our politicians fixations on UNSC seat, Bofors phobias,POTA phobias etc. 26/11 and Kabul Embassy attack have crossed the RED line!! Even if we are giving back to them today at Karachi or Balochistan..if we dont overtly draw red line in the sand..Paki perceptions of threshold will go further up. Tomorrow after LeT crashes a dozen heavy passenger jets into most of our iconic targets..and Pakis will say..the disgusting line -“dont let terrorists stall CD process”. This is totally BS..we are wasting money on Pakistan..better relocate our Pak embassy & consulates to Uganda or Mongolia ..I am quite sure..we can do a better job dealing ..with “normal” ppl..

  13. I have to disagree with Acorn on this. As people above me have mentioned, Pakistan is way more evolved and sophiticated in diplomacy than us. They can manufacture reasons not to go against the Taliban for the next thousand years.

    The next 26/11 is slowly but surely coming closer. Thats because the jihadis are convinced we will never strike back. The americans are slowly getting convinced that they can’t handle Pakistan alone. Hence Robert Gate’s clear admission that US won’t stop India in event of another 26/11. Indians will have no choice but to retaliate in event of an attack. We are more closer to a war than most of us realize.

  14. “…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…”

    We should talk, but to the Obama administration not Pak.


  15. The americans are slowly getting convinced that they can’t handle Pakistan alone. Hence Robert Gate’s clear admission that US won’t stop India in event of another 26/11. Indians will have no choice but to retaliate in event of an attack. We are more closer to a war than most of us realize.

    @Sayan,i cannot count the number of times we were “close to war” – but let me give it a shot -Parliament attack in 2001, repeated terrorism on all major cities before 26/11 including Delhi, Bangalore, Bombay, 26/11…

    National Security HAS NEVER BEEN AN ISSUE electorally – what happened in India – a Government that failed to stop the 26/11 attacks coming back to power with a clear and greater majority(!!) would never happen in any other country where people have dignity and self respect still left.

    GOI is BEGGING pakis to come to talks -and our enemies…sorry, neighbors have graciously agreed to our begging.

    Closer to war, you say? The dog that barks never bites – India is a dog that does not even bark…and sure as hell has no bite. India is a lowly slumdog that depends on other people to fight its fight.

    What a truly pathetic country.

  16. If this was a two player game, India would have taken on Pakistan long ago. Pakistan is owned by countries that would like to ensure that India always has a “pakistan-problem”, because a war between India and Pakistan plays right into the hands of Pakistan’s owners. Think of Pakistan as a rabid dog with no brains, and then think what could be the motivations for Pakistan’s owners to ignore Pakistan’s behaviour towards India, if not encourage Pakistan to get into a fighting war with India. Here are some possibilities:

    1. Pakistan’s nuclear program is aimed towards India and has been winked at by both China and USA. China ended up handing nuclear bomb designs (CHIC-4) to Pakistan and the USA pretended that the cold war tied its hands from stopping Pakistan…sort of like USA is pretending that the Afghan war is tying its hands from stopping Pakistan.

    2. British Geopoliticians have taught the Americans all they know about why J&K must be out of India’s control in the long-term, to deny India access to central asia — these are in public records nowadays. Peter Hopkirk’s series on the Great Game gives the history of such thinking, and N. S. Sarila’s book relating the Great Game to the horrors of Partition of India are great references. As far as I can see, there is no indication that anything has changed with regards to such thinking behind the motivations of current world powers. The idiots in Pakistan go on-and-on about “Strategic depth” without comprehending that there is no such thing.

    Seriously, if Afghanisthan is Pakistan’s “Strategic Depth”, then it implies that the Pakistani Army foresees use of that space when Pakistani territory itself is no longer safe for them. Did any genius in the Pakistani Army’s Strategic division even bother to think through whether

    (a) Afghanisthan is safe from India’s strategic capabilities, but Pakistan isn’t?
    (b) What is their supply line plan, if the Army runs back into its “strategic depth” because, say Sindh is no longer under the control of Pakistani government. Do they think the Balochis will allow such a line to feet the Pakistani Army, given the history between the two?

    I doubt it.

Comments are closed.