Reality and composite dialogue

Why India is talking to Pakistan again and why it won’t achieve anything

Samanth Subramanian’s report in The National quotes my comments on New Delhi’s decision to resume the-composite-dialogue-but-we-won’t-call-it that with Pakistan:

Not calling the new talks a resumption of “composite dialogue” is important for both countries, said Nitin Pai, a fellow at the Takshashila Institution, an independent strategic-affairs think tank based in Chennai. “The Indian side will look at each of the six or seven rounds of discussions, before the foreign ministers’ meeting, as a hurdle that Pakistan has to cross. The Pakistani side will say that it has resumed dialogue and gotten what it wants,” Mr Pai said. “From a purely diplomatic point of view, it’s a success to have broken the logjam.”

Mr Pai said the friction between the countries comes from India’s disconnect between “reality and the Indian government’s approach towards whatever is happening in Pakistan. You would expect things to move with reciprocity—create good faith, then take small steps”.

Instead, he said, the Indian government “driven by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is pursuing a dogmatic approach—that they have to pursue talks”. For this reason, he said, he expects “nothing concrete” to come out of them. [The National]

This warrants a more detailed post. At the political level, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh waited until public memory of 26/11 faded to a level that it was politically feasible for him to resume the bilateral dialogue that he was compelled to suspend in December 2009. Whether at Sharm-el-Sheikh or at Thimphu last year, Dr Singh has dogmatically pursued dialogue with Pakistan, bending over backwards and in the face of Pakistani brazenness of epic proportions.

Faith is oblivious to facts or reason. The fact that the pompous poseurs that pass off as Pakistan’s civilian government are powerless to deliver on anything (other than meeting for talks and track-2’s) is immaterial to India’s prime minister. That General Ashfaq Kayani cannot wind down the military’s jihadi components even in the unlikely event that he wants to is lost on him. He is unconcerned that the rapid growth of Pakistan’s China-backed nuclear arsenal and US-financed conventional armoury suggests intentions inimical to rapprochement. No, Dr Manmohan Singh just wants to solve all problems by dialogue. Therefore the disconnect between India’s policy approach and objective reality.

The challenge for India’s diplomats was not so much to agree to talks with Pakistan and invite the insufferable Shah Mehmood Qureshi to New Delhi. Those were given. It was about how to do it in a manner that will not be seen as a complete cave-in to Pakistani demands. They achieved it by splitting the difference. The Pakistani side got the composite dialogue that they wanted without having to try or imprison anyone remotely connected with the 26/11 terrorist attacks. The Indian side can say that, well, we will ensure that the Pakistanis will jump seven hurdles before we make you suffer the insufferable Mr Qureshi in July.

Once a date is suggested for Mr Qureshi’s visit, the expectation is set. Whether or not the Pakistanis cross the seven hurdles, it will be extremely difficult—okay, practically impossible—for New Delhi to call off the foreign ministers’ meeting. The only hope that we’ll be spared Mr Qureshi’s obnoxious posturing is if someone else gets appointed foreign minister before then*.

Don’t believe all the solutions agreed to in track-2’s or track-1’s or track-0’s. They aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. Those who believe such promises need to understand the concept of counterparty risk. It is not a coincidence that the all-powerful General Pervez Musharraf’s political decline began around the time he presented his back-channel proposals to the Pakistani army leadership.

While talks and dialogue might impress the international community with the masochistic capabilities of India’s foreign policy, they will amount to nothing. You can’t hope to achieve much by negotiating with the dog. You must negotiate with its master.

* Update: Mr Qureshi won’t be coming in July after all. He didn’t get the foreign affairs portfolio in today’s reshuffle.

3 thoughts on “Reality and composite dialogue”

  1. With all respect to our analysts, I fail to understand why they keep whipping a dead horse. Whether we talk to Pakistan or whether Qureshi comes or comes not is simply not the agenda of the man on the street today. No one expects diplomacy and these talks to produce any reult and no one really cares anymore. In fact the very fact that Qureshi is coming, which seems to be the highlight of Thimpu, tells me that talks are doomed. Both have achieved what they wanted – give nothing and pretend to be serious.

    What does, however, concern me is the fact that I have never known another government or administration in India which is so totally oblivious to public sentiment and concerns. Here we are mired in sordid deeds that are chipping away at our foundations. The crass greed we see all around us is the bigger security threat than anything Pakistan or anyone can throw at us. Yet, all we get from those who should be firefighting is a deafening silence, occasional doses of notional loss and no perceived loss, the courts raging in frustration and are a visit by Qureshi as icing!

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