Running Out of Talk Time
Amb Satish Chandra, Vice Chairman, VIF

The next three weeks will be marked by a flurry of India-Pakistan exchanges in Islamabad. These comprise the India-Pakistan foreign secretary-level talks on June 24, Chidambaram’s discussions with his counterpart Rehman Malik on terrorism related issues on the sidelines of the SAARC interior ministers meeting on June 26, and the foreign minister-level talks in mid-July.
It may be recalled that the PM, in his statement on July 29, 2009, in the Lok Sabha, had made engagement with Pakistan contingent on its taking action on terrorism. Subsequently, in the foreign secretary-level talks held in New Delhi in February 2010, while several issues were discussed, those were primarily in response to the points raised by the Pakistan side; our focus was on terrorism. In her media briefing of February 25, 2010 our foreign secretary stated that the “time” was “not ripe to resume” the composite dialogue because “a climate of trust and confidence” had to be created, underlining that the “Mumbai attack erased the trust and confidence that the two countries had painstakingly built during the period 2004-07.”
These parameters have since mutated as evident from the foreign secretary’s assertion on June 13 at a meeting organised by the Delhi Policy Group, that “for bridging what is called the ‘trust deficit’ between the two countries, we are ready to address all issues of mutual concern through dialogue and peaceful negotiations.” This assertion signifies that the dialogue process will be “composite”-plus, and that the trust deficit is to be addressed not squarely by Pakistan’s eschewing of terrorist activities directed against India but by dialogue and negotiation!

While this approach is prima facie at variance with the PM’s Lok Sabha speech and with the foreign secretary’s February 25 statement, it is in tune with the PM’s belief that there is no option but to talk to Pakistan and that terrorism should not be allowed to impede the peace process — as jointly declared by him with Musharraf, way back in September 2005 in New York. The positions taken by our government post-Mumbai not to talk to Pakistan were no more than temporary tactical adjustments in deference to an outraged Indian public opinion which naturally found unpalatable dialogue with a Pakistan bent on inflicting terror on India. Our re-engaging Pakistan at a time when it is upping its involvement in terrorism directed against India, as evident from a doubling of the infiltration bids over last year’s levels in J&K and increased incidents of cross-border firing, is testimony to the strength of the PM’s commitment to the dialogue process.

Normally, it is hard to argue against dialogue. But these are not normal times and Pakistan is not a normal country. As suggested by a recent Rand Corporation study, Pakistan has been supporting militancy since 1989 for “bleeding India into concessions”, the ISI will continue to support “India-focused militants, and “vested interests” (read Pakistan army) will seek to preserve a “state of confrontation with India.” In these circumstances, our seeking dialogue with Pakistan, a country which has no abiding interest other than hurting India, is ill-advised. Not only is it unlikely to achieve any meaningful results but will be seen as a sign of weakness by Pakistan, further emboldening it to up the ante in its involvement with terrorist actions directed against India.

Given the PM’s interest in the dialogue process, Pakistan’s interest in it as a means of deflecting international pressure to sever its links with terrorism, and the US interest in keeping both countries talking, it would be reasonable to assume that the pace of bilateral exchanges, both on the front and back channels, will pick up in the next few months. It may even yield some results on a few peripheral issues; but resolution of critical issues will come only if India does all the running. Concessions made by the government for resolution of issues like Siachen or Sir Creek will not induce Pakistan to eschew the use of terror against India, and to accept a settlement in Kashmir on the basis of the status quo in terms of the existing borders. Past experience has shown that Indian generosity, as in the case of the Indus Waters Treaty, under which we settled for only 20 per cent of the flows of the Indus Waters as against a legitimate entitlement of 40 per cent, or in the case of the Simla Agreement, under which we returned about 5000 sq kilometers of territory captured by us in 1971 and facilitated the return of 90000 POWs in our custody without any formal quid pro quo, has never been appreciated by Pakistan.

Not only is the efficacy of the dialogue process suspect, its longevity is also in doubt. Can it survive another Mumbai? The answer is no — at least for all those who carry with them the sense of outrage in the country against Pakistan at the time of the Mumbai incident. Since another Mumbai is on the cards sooner rather than later, it is a safe bet to assume another hiatus in the freshly resumed talks within a year.

Those in favour of the dialogue process argue that there are no other viable options short of war. This is fallacious. The fact that India has never sought to penalise Pakistan for using terror as an instrument of foreign policy against it does not mean that it cannot do so. Indeed, it is the failure of successive governments to penalise Pakistan in its use of terror against us that has encouraged it to refine this exercise into a fine art.

Pakistan’s penalisation could be undertaken through adoption of a portfolio of measures including some of the following :

  • A vigorous international campaign to project Pakistan as a terrorist state seeking imposition of sanctions against it including suspension of military and economic assistance. Such a campaign will only be credible if India insists that talks will be contingent on Pakistan dismantling the infrastructure of terror.
  • Exploitation of Pakistan’s faultlines in Sindh, Balochistan and the Northern Areas.
  • Covert action to take out Pakistan-based terrorist elements and their supporters.
  • Minimising the flows of the Indus waters to Pakistan through the full exercise of our rights over their use, as legally permitted under the Indus Waters treaty. Moreover, notice should be served on Pakistan for the renegotiation of the Indus Waters Treaty under which India gets much less of the waters than its legitimate entitlement.
  • The Indian community in the US should be mobilised in order to prevent the US government from mollycoddling Pakistan. Additional pressure should be brought to bear, through the multi-billion dollar arms and industrial contracts in the works.

Published in Indian Express dated 26th June.

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