Why I support official talks with Pakistan

Talks will call the bluffs in Rawalpindi, Islamabad & Washington

The sudden and unexplained manner in which the UPA government offered to resume talks with Pakistan has injected a lot of confusion in the public discourse. The confusion—and the political & strategic costs arising from it—must be blamed on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A move as significant as the restart of official bilateral discussions should have been properly explained to the public by the prime minister. Dr Singh remains silent, as usual, leading a thousand blind men and women to describe the elephant as they sense it. What follows, therefore, is the account of Blind Man of Hindoostan #1001.

Talking to the Pakistani government is unlikely to achieve any substantial progress in bilateral relations. The Zardari-Gilani government is a joke. The military-jihadi complex under General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani does not perceive any accommodation with India as being in its interests. The Pakistani economy and society itself is in a tailspin, perhaps even a terminal decline. Even if India could find a party on the other side of the border with sufficient authority and credibility to engage in serious negotiations, it is unlikely that such a party can strike a deal. And if a deal were to be struck, it is likely to be repudiated by whoever comes next. Therefore, anyone who bases the argument for talks on premises like “Let’s give dialogue a chance” or “Because we must” or any other similar notion cannot be taken seriously.

The biggest threat to international security, not just India’s national security, is Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex. Pakistan cannot be at peace with itself, or with its neighbours, or with the world until and unless the military-jihadi complex is contained, dismantled and ultimately destroyed. This grand task is neither India’s alone, nor is India capable of engaging in it all by itself.

If US troops were not engaged in Afghanistan and if US President Barack Obama’s political fortunes did not depend on success in Af-Pak, there would be no reason for India to engage in pointless talks with Pakistan. But the presence of US troops in Afghanistan, and covertly in Pakistan, is an opportunity for India, as Washington faces the unpalatable reality of having to confront the military-jihadi complex. Of course, there is a chance that the Obama administration will chicken out. Even so, it is in India’s interests to deprive Pakistan and the United States of the fig leaves they might want to cover their own escapes. Pakistan cannot blame tensions with India for not fighting the taliban, and the United States cannot use the same excuse in case it fails to compel the Pakistani military establishment to deliver.

So let the foreign secretaries talk. Let them make a list of all issues they want to talk about. And let them then talk about those issues. Just as talks won’t stop terrorism, they need not stop whatever measures India is taking to counter the terrorism.

Honesty demands the risks be stated upfront. One risk is that the United States will lose its nerve, and that New Delhi will fail to compel Washington to act against the military-jihadi complex.

But the bigger risk is that these talks might place the Indian government on a slippery slope of making permanent concessions in return for temporary ones. The desire for a deal, and the place in history that might come with one, will tempt Indian decisionmakers to err on the side of wishfulness. The best way to manage this risk is for the BJP and other parties to remain alert and remain opposed to any concessions, not talks.

The Pakistanis might complain that this is a dialogue of the deaf, and that India is intransigent and that they will not be able to halt terrorism unless India yields to their demands. Let them.

35 thoughts on “Why I support official talks with Pakistan”

  1. Come on, Nitin! Who are you kidding? Does the Indian Govt need to respond to what the US/Pak govts feel is good, or to the needs of its people?

    If India needs to make the US stay, it needs to ratchet up tension about what it will do ONCE they withdraw. Lets not be wussies here, eh?
    The Govt needs to start putting troops in Afghanistan – and get Iranians in, into Afghanistan. That should scare the Pakistanis & the Americans.
    Yanks wudnt wanna see Iran gain major influence in both places its exiting!

    Why should India heed to another country’s calls after it gets attacked? India needs to stop pussyfooting around, and attack. In *every* possible way. Restraint, talks will not help. Pakistan and the US will keep coming up with good excuses. They’ve mastered it over decades.

    The time is to say “shove your excuses where the sun dont shine – or I’ll do the deed myself”.

  2. Nitin,

    Do you think govt would have reacted differently if there were no IPL, Hockey world cup, CWG this year?

    Someday or the other we have to stop talking and remove thorn using thorn even if it means overt military action.

  3. Nitin,

    The only reason there is opposition to any talks with Pakistan is not because of the fear that such talks may recognize Pakistan as a normal State, even after assaults on our soil – if that were the case we should be opposing basic diplomatic relations and not talks.

    But it is the fear that the Govt in Hindusthan will give in to Pakistani demands of whatever kind.

    Whatever may be said about the failed state/society of Pakistan; its diplomacy has always been razor sharp.

    Ours has been wooley at best.

  4. So it is better to be a failed state with great diplomacy rather than a functional state withseemingly muddled policies? If this is the kind of thinking engendered by people in the “nationalist” sections of Indian society, such nominal nationalists need to understand that they the same level of IQ as the average Pakistani jihadi or Ex-Presidente Musharraf…..more intent on local politics than looking at the big picture. These are the times I am glad that a “right-of-center nationalist” government is not in charge today.

  5. Nitin,

    You said,
    “Pakistan cannot blame tensions with India for not fighting the taliban, and the United States cannot use the same excuse in case it fails to compel the Pakistani military establishment to deliver.”

    First of all Pakistan blaming Indian tensions for not able focus on fighting Taliban is widely accepted pretext, by everyone, including USA. But lets take a hypothetical scenario for a moment. Say, Indo-Pak talks takes place and Pakistan whole-heartily helps USA fighting against Taliban and US secures its objectives in Af-Pak and Obama is happy, politically revived. What happens next ? Do you think USA and Pak will “then” pay attention to India’s grievances and repay in kind for offering talks and making it easy for Pak for focusing on Taliban ? Come on Nitin, are you living in dreamland ? Have you not followed history ? USA and Pak will eternally disregard (even mock) us so longer as we don’t show some spine and self-respect and start pushing back with our own agenda which does NOT include talks. Just demand action should be our agenda.

    Thank you,
    deshdaaz

  6. Nitin,
    I think you are mistaken on the fact that US would be able to put more pressure on Pak to act in AfPak. What the US is doing promising to bring tensions with India to a normal level while in turn Pak would help it make a face-saving exit out of Afghanistan.

    The greatest historical blunder committed by India vis-a-vis Pakistan is the nuclear tests. Else the post 26-11 response would have been drastically different.

    -Pradeep

  7. Hi,

    It is probably better for India to be talking to Pakistan than for India to be Not Talking To Pakistan. That said, there is less to this than meets the eye.

    After all, there is not much evidence that the Pakistani government is strong enough to make a deal with India on any terms short of Pakistan getting Kashmir. There is no evidence that India would consider agreeing to this. The Government of India wants the Pakistani government to assist it by cracking down on the LeT. But the likely effect of cracking down on the LeT would be to force the LeT to join the Pakistani Taliban … something the government of Pakistan probably strongly wants to avoid.

    So it is pretty unlikely that a deal is in the works. In the absence of a likely deal, whether the foreign ministers meet is mostly an issue for the foreign offices, and not of great importance.

    Ray,

  8. “The greatest historical blunder committed by India vis-a-vis Pakistan is the nuclear tests. Else the post 26-11 response would have been drastically different.”

    @pradeep, the above ignores that Pakistan had acquired nukes in the 80s and had undeclared capability until the Indian tests in 1998. The Indian tests in 1998 was necessary to put an end to the dubious games played by the US in India’s neighbourhood to force India sign up to various worthless “non-proliferation” or “test-ban” treaties that are not worth the paper they are written on.

    So yeah, the post 26-11 response would have been different but not in the way you envisage.

  9. “So it is better to be a failed state with great diplomacy rather than a functional state withseemingly muddled policies?”

    – This is not what my comment even implied.

    In case you need more to go on, why not read a bit of European history – About how Hitler dealt with Britain and France in Czechoslovakia and then in Munich.

    If you want something nearer home – just flip through various Hindusthan-Pak negotiations and see their outcome – even when we were supposedly in a stronger position.

    Please show me those sterling diplomatic victories we have achieved over Pakistan. Then I might have more confidence in the people you seem to trust so much.

    Thank you.

  10. “The greatest historical blunder committed by India vis-a-vis Pakistan is the nuclear tests.”

    A blunder soon outdone by Pakistan’s own tests. When it comes to stupidity, you never ever must underestimate the Pakistani rulers.
    If Pakistan hadn’t tested, WE would have been the nuclear pariah, war-mongering state with record poverty, terrorism and nuclear weapons. Pakistan would have been able to milk the West for all kinds of weaponry, aids and investment, as was proposed by the Clinton administration.
    Instead, India has been accepted as a responsible nuclear power and Pakistan has been dragging it’s smelly carcass around the world ever since.

  11. Nitin,

    Ur blog does have a setup for tlks to continue; bt the tlks has a flip side, It will expose soft corner of India. The reason behind western countries singing the tune against pakistan was not out of love for India, bt bcuz it took a tough stand. N whom shuld v engage dialogue with. Even US does nt consider PAK govt worthy enuf to tlk, eg. Ms. Clintons meet with Ashfaq and CIA-ISI meet widout GOVT getting involved.
    Our proposal to tlks tight now not composite, will b framed to b to composite by big brother US. India is not loosing anything by not talking to PAK. SO India should look its own interest and reason to tlk, rather than building Foreign Policy decision to appease US, as US is just concerened about AF-PAK n not India.
    I m nt asking terrorist to be brought to justice in PAK in record tym; as even in India it tkes 2 decades to finalise crimminal. But Imdia shuld b convinced n satisfied of the PAK action to tlk, tlking for the heck of it will only affect India, India;s position and India’s Global Image.
    We should leave the desperation of pleasing all at our pwn cost

  12. “Please show me those sterling diplomatic victories we have achieved over Pakistan. Then I might have more confidence in the people you seem to trust so much.”

    @Palahalli, please spell out the value of any diplomatic victories with a terrorist country like Pakistan? In fact, what is the value of any short-term “victory” when it comes to Pakistan? Once you figure out the answers to those questions, you may understand the irrelevance of your question and your overall approach to Pakistan.

  13. “please spell out the value of any diplomatic victories with a terrorist country like Pakistan?” – Precisely. My pain is not wrt Pakistan. My pain is wrt our boys losing in the conference rooms what they have no will to fight for to win back or retain; on the battle field.

    I simply don’t trust our louts with anything more serious than their tooth brushes. I’d much rather they stand still and play dead.

    Yes. That’s possible with them.

  14. Pakistan’s terror plans can be controlled through China. I believe Pak Army takes green signal from Chinese before they do any terror activities in India.

    India needs long term strategic plan to nullify China-Pak AXIS.

  15. @Palahalli:

    “I simply don’t trust our louts with anything more serious than their tooth brushes. I’d much rather they stand still and play dead.”

    I don’t doubt that you have good reasons for the above point of view. However, negativism of this sort is not going to help — you need to separate your points of view from what you are analyzing, else you will just confuse yourself and others who listen to you.

  16. “The desire for a deal, and the place in history that might come with one, will tempt Indian decisionmakers to err on the side of wishfulness.”
    You said it. How on earth could anyone explain the talks declaration by India, when the other day news channels were running broadcasts of how our foreign minister was very clear that there’ld be no talks unless there was sufficient Pakistani action on terrorists. Manmohan Singhji is very keen on a Nobel Peace, even if it comes at the cost of the lives of few Indian souls, without realizing that any deal if at all struck with Pakistan is always going to be repudiated in the future.

  17. “However, negativism of this sort is not going to help” – Fine and I’m not so sure i’m the only one with such negativism. The thing is its (the negativism)valid and justified.

    How does this govt rectify it? Why can’t it institutionalize a bi-partisan model of conducting foreign policy? Why can there not be something akin to a “Congressional” grilling of the delegates to these talks on what their agenda is and what they will or might blabber and commit to in the conference?

    I think instead of saying “we should talk” or “why” we can do better if we can explain “how best?”.

  18. IMO to talk or not to talk is not the real issue, it is what are we doing to make sure our citizens are safe, and they are not safe as long as there is MJC. The least we can do is make them know that there is a price attached to their shenanigans, they can’t just walk in take lives and go scot free which unfortunately they have been succeeding at till now.

  19. Nitin by supporting official talks with Pakistan, you inadvertently support

    A.The notion that India is the aggressor and it has to talk inorder to “reassure” Pakistan – this is a laughable notion that flies in the face of everything that has happened in the last decade and throughout our history.

    B.the notion that India is open to negotiating with a known terrorist state even after provocations ranging from the Kandahar hijack to Kargil to the Parliament attacks in 01, the terrorist attacks on Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Gujarat, Bombay in 07, Bombay in 09, and now Pune

    C. You have also forgotten the whole issue of “Paki nuclear weapons” – i.e. India cannot possibly attack Pakistan because it might evolve into an all out nuclear war blah blah..

    I think its pretty clear that India has lost out in AfPak – these talks are a signal as to how disatrous our weak kneed foreign policy is..

    Also, if you havent figured this out yet, the US wants a face saving exit out of Afghanistan – there is no question of “chickening out” by the US… they know that they are not going to stay here for the next 3 decades. Which is the kind of commitment that US needs to build the Afghan police and army.And they are not ready for that kind of an extended stay. Not in a hellhole like Afghanistan. American power is on the decline and they can sense their limits now.

    After eight years of war, the US knows that the Afghan security apparatus is pretty useless. And it is not averse to Pakistan taking over Afghanistan – otherwise India and Iran would be more dominant – and the US would prefer Pakistan than India/Iran getting involved in Afghanistan.

    In fact the US is now defacto promoting Pakistani national interests and is acting in a way that is averse to India’s security interests. As simple as that. There is no pussyfooting around this.

    India has to tighten its security within its borders and try to minimize the casualties of Indian victims of terror.

  20. The crux of this Jihad Inc. to target India with immunity lies in the great Indian failure of decisive interdiction 25 years ago.

    In unverified reports floating around on the internets – Israel had actually offered Indian leadership under Rajiv Gandhi to take out Paki nukes supplied by China back in 1985-87 period. We did not respond unilateralally then nor did we take up Israels offer. This was the great failure of strategic projection. The original failure of imagination that has made us sitting ducks today to repeated attacks by jihad inc.

    This has allowed the islamists to build a formidable Military Jihad complex protected by nuke weapons. The clear challenge is to deal with this aspect. How to take out the nukes in order to destroy Jihad Inc.

    One way out is to develop first strike capabilities along with developing an entente with Russia and Israel and to work out some kind of decisive elimination. This strategy can off course lead to a rupture with NATO nations as islamic republic is a Non-Nato ally and a key US-Euro pincer.

    Another strategy should be an immediate assignment of 200 million dollars for Indian special forces to kill all the runners of Jihad Inc. Eliminating all the kennel dogs like Hafiz Syed, Makki, Kashmiri, Dawood, Memon etc etc. in targetted assassinations. Mossad would be more than happy to help. This announcement must be made publicaly by the Indian PM to the nation.

    The “talks” with the islamists started around 1948 and must go down as the longest running farce/scam in history. To accept the pakistani strategy of deniability by keeping on this endless farce all over again only means that present Indian leadership has turned complicit.

  21. “The “talks” with the islamists started around 1948 and must go down as the longest running farce/scam in history. To accept the pakistani strategy of deniability by keeping on this endless farce all over again only means that present Indian leadership has turned complicit.”

    – Well said.

  22. Unless Pakistan changes, unless Pakistan shows some courage to curb terrorists and terrorism, nothing will change. India can hold thousands talk shows, USA can put pressure on India and Pakistan to start talking, nothing concrete is achievable in this firing environment, to change anything for the sake of humanity and to build some tangible bridge between these two countries Pakistan must abandoned its Terrorists policies first.

    Take it or leave it, but back channels talks or front channels talks won’t work and secondly why the hell we should hold any talks when guns are already talking?

    regards
    ekawaaz

  23. Yeah sure! Talk and talk till the cows come home. Another long running session of tea and biscuilts at taxpayer expense that accomplishes diddly squat.

    All the while terror attacks are waged on India with impunity from Pak. While the Home Minister says GoI cannot provide security to every nook and corner of India.

    And some call India an “emerging superpower”. What a joke!

  24. Nitin, your main premise that we should talk, despite zero predicted results, is to get US-Pak monkey off our back should not be good enough for support of this move…

    That the call for talks came within 2 weeks after Bob Gates visit to Delhi, that Manmohan can’t even talk to people after Pune Islamic terrorist attacks because he has to explain why he’s talking to Pakis, that Pak’s sudden interest in arresting Afghan Taliban’s #2 means the show is being run from elsewhere.

    While Delhi won’t explain, we have complete faith in Pakis screwing it up.

  25. I think there is no end to the reasons, all credible, on both sides of the talk – no talk divide. However, what really matters is the knee jerk proclamations which suddenly confront us from the foreign office. Till the week before this was thrown up, there were nothing but resolves of not talking. Now without any reason being offered the Indian public is told we need to talk. In fact one newspaper sanctimoniously informed us that the issue is complicated and India is aware of the fact! Well, well, well, who would have thought so, were it not for this condescending piece of advice.

    I say lets talk, we know nothing is going to come out of it, both sides know it. But if a charade is necessary lets act it out. If the spontaneous Agra talks without any agenda were a fiasco, these are going to be just one more, haven’t we got used to them yet?

    Much as I admire and respect the good doctor, our PM, I think he is totally out of his depth when it comes to Pakistan. But he seems to have a sincere desire to be seen as someone who brought about a historic break through. Let us humour him and give him a chance.

  26. Talks are fine as long as there is no “joint statement”, there is no point blaming drafters after putting signatures on it.

  27. If the only other option to war for the resolution of indo pak conflict is a negotiated settlement, then so be it. even pakistan knows that it will not get everything it wants and is using all the resources available to it – primarily terrorism, to extract maximum concessions from India. India cannot ignore the importance of both hard and soft powers to make sure we don’t lose the advantage we have over them right now on account of 1. our economic strength 2. our well earned reputation as a responsible power 3. our commitment to democracy. You can’t ask for a more advantageous position to negotiate.

  28. If the only other option to war for the resolution of indo pak conflict is a negotiated settlement, then so be it. even pakistan knows that it will not get everything it wants and is using all the resources available to it – primarily terrorism, to extract maximum concessions from India.

    Sanjay, i hope you dont mind me asking this question – but what exactly would a “negotiated settlement” look like, given this is a problem that traces its very roots to the Partition of this country. It is six decades later and this problem is still raging.

    What Pakistan does know is that once it has established that it can get concessions from India (what ever they might be) by using terrorism. After all it would prove that an asymmetric war that has pushed India into a corner and concede to Pakistan – why not try this until Pakistan gets everything that it wants.?

    In fact all this so called “economic power” of India is effectively neutered by terrorism from Pakistan.

    our well earned reputation as a responsible power 3. our commitment to democracy. You can’t ask for a more advantageous position to negotiate.

    I don’t know what to say but if you are following the news ,these “talks” were a direct result of Bob Gates visit to India this month. In effect we were bullied by Uncle Sam to make a “peace offering” to Pakistan – and the reason we were bullied into doing this was because it was a quid pro quo between the US and Pakistan for capturing the umpteenth 2nd in command of the Taliban.

    So, as you can see we are not in any “advantageous position” – in fact Pakistan is now in the drivers seat and is dictating the agenda – we are merely reacting to it defensively

    AT the recent London Conference the USA all but thew up its hands and has in not so many words asked for Pakistan to basically take over Afghanistan again – the US is all set to leave the region in the next 5 years. Something to keep in mind.

  29. >> but what exactly would a “negotiated settlement” look like
    What we should settle for is something to be decided collectively, you may not be comfortable with the concessions i am comfortable with, and vice versa. The govt should at the least take the parliament into confidence, and let it decide.
    >> After all it would prove that an asymmetric war that has pushed India into a corner and concede to Pakistan – why not try this until Pakistan gets everything that it wants?
    A negotiated settlement is only possible when both sides agree to it, in any case military option can and must not be written off.
    >> all this so called “economic power” of India is effectively neutered by terrorism from Pakistan.
    If terrorism can be used to neutralize economic power, even the reverse is true, I”ll come to that later.
    >> we were bullied by Uncle Sam to make a “peace offering” to Pakistan – and the reason we were bullied into doing this was because it was a quid pro quo between the US and Pakistan for capturing the umpteenth 2nd in command of the Taliban.
    Pakistan is now in the drivers seat and is dictating the agenda – we are merely reacting to it defensively
    >> That is because we are not using our economic power for achieving our strategic objectives like our neighbor China is, why look elsewhere. US is able to play this “good cop bad cop” game with us because we are letting it.
    >> the US is all set to leave the region in the next 5 years. Something to keep in mind.
    US interest in the region is limited to its self interest, not ours, India has to solve its problems itself.

  30. it all boils down to either country’s best alternatve to negotiated agreement. pakistan’s hard options are continue bleeding india through terrorism and soft options are putting international pressure through u.s. and china. india’s hard options are limited to counter terrorism defensive measures, however india does have soft options by putting international pressure on pakistan to dismantle MJC.

  31. @sanjay,

    “International Pressure to remove the MJC” is a mirage — if there was any such intent in the so-called “International Community”, it would have revealed itself during the recent london conference. Instead, it was the MJC that was empowered by the UK/US combine.

    India’s hard options also include deniable offensive measures that are still open, if the Indian leaders had the smarts to go in that direction. There are no “soft options” when dealing with a terrorists country like Pakistan.

  32. That is because India is not leveraging its economic strength like China, and is letting itself being bullied around. Just to give a small example: US/UK do not pressurize China on matters of Tibet because their MNCs have much to lose.

  33. @SRM
    agree with you that india does have credible alternatives and is not in such a hopeless position that we accept everything our detractors want us to, and/or can’t save our citizens from terror attacks.

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