Why India should talk with Pakistan but not lower its guard

  • Kamal Davar
  • Updated: Dec 16, 2015 20:01 IST
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (2R) and army chief Raheel Sharif (C) paying their respects during a ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the Peshawar school massacre which left more than 150 people dead. (AFP)

A foreign policy conceived with clarity, based on realism and subsequently pursued with consistency should be the hallmark of a self-confident nation. Nevertheless, India needs to ponder over its Pakistan policy since the Modi government took charge 18 months back and ascertain for itself if the basic principles of robust pragmatism have been its guiding tenet in dealing with a difficult neighbour with whom India has been drawn four times into war since 1947.

The history of the past few decades stands a testimony of continuing Pakistani perfidy notwithstanding many endeavours by India to mend relations; its neighbour’s machinations have included using terror extensively as an instrument of state policy to destabilize India. That the 26/11 Mumbai terror masterminds Messrs Saeed and Lakhvi roam free in Pakistan and publicly continue to spew hatred at India does cast a doubt on the current Pakistani establishment’s intentions towards India.

After a promising start in May 2014 when Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif attended Narendra Modi’s inauguration ceremony at New Delhi, relations between the two nations have been on a rollercoaster ride. India called off, rightly, the scheduled meeting between the National Security Advisers of the two nations on the grounds that the Pakistan hierarchy were adamant to consult Indian separatist leaders prior to the talks. We have rightly believed that the interests of our local Kashmiris would, as always, be looked after by the Indian state and as we deal with Pakistan on any vexed issues concerning the two nations, Hurriyat or any other Kashmiri political or social formation has no role in any Indo-Pak parleys. It is, of course, common knowledge that some of the separatist fraternity in Srinagar, have for years been getting their annual financial dole and their latest instructions to foment unrest from their ISI masters and the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.

Though the levels of terrorist violence in J&K have gone down drastically in the last few years owing to the professionalism of the Indian Army and the other security forces, 2015 has seen an upsurge in cross-border firing, ceasefire violations along the line of control/international border in J&K, stone pelting, waving of Pakistani and, alarmingly now, Islamic State flags. There are clear signs that the notorious ISI is keeping the pot simmering in the Valley.

On October 1, responding to Pakistani PM’s tirade against India at the annual UNGA gathering in New York, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj emphatically informed the global community that the only “ core issue” ( a term for J&K, Pakistan bandies about with monotonous regularity) is the political status of POK and the Gilgit Baltistan regions, of the erstwhile princely state of J&K, which had merged with the Union of India in 1947.She succinctly stated that India was prepared for talks on every issue with Pakistan but “ terror and talks cannot be combined” . This was as candid and clear as any enunciation of India’s Pak policy. But have we stuck to our stand after this statement ?

The events of the past few weeks appears that India has changed tack as regards dealing with Pakistan. After the Ufa parleys in August, then, importantly, last month on the sidelines of the Paris global climate conference where the PMs of the two nations met for, ostensibly, a few minutes, the NSAs of the two nations secretly met in Bangkok leading to our Foreign Minister’s trip a few days back to Islamabad for the “Heart of Asia” conference: parleys between India and Pakistan are now on an overdrive.

It is indeed advisable for sincere endeavours to thaw the highly vexed relationship but India must undertake all such peace and normalcy initiatives with requisite caution. What could be more provocative than the Pakistani High Commissioner in Delhi, Abdul Basit, meeting some Hurriyat representatives again yesterday in Delhi and stating that let not the next terrorist attack in India derail future Indo-Pak talks !

Presumably, the ISI, terror chieftains and the hawks in the Pak establishment feel, based on their past experience in dealing with India that we are indeed a soft state. Instead of the “Composite Dialogue”, the Pakistanis would surely be happy that India has, once again, succumbed to the same deliberations now under a new nom-de-plume called a “Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue”!

As India seeks to explore the dividends of peace with its historically recalcitrant neighbor, let it not lower its guard but be vigilant and keep its powder dry for any eventuality. All of India would like to believe Sushma Swaraj when she says that there is no “flip flop” in India’s Pak policy.

Let us also note that terrorists of all hues, all over the world including in our neighbourhood, do stand internationally isolated especially after the recent Paris blasts. Let us not lose our focus on vigorously eliminating terrorism in our region and ensuring that Pakistan remains accountable towards its sub-continental responsibilities. Let us also reach out to the misguided among our people in J&K with a “healing touch”, for most of them understand that they have nothing in common with a radicalized Pakistan.

(The author, a retired Lt Gen, was India’s first chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency. The views expressed are personal.)

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