Why India shouldn't abandon peace talks with Pakistan

  • Vinod Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 18, 2015 09:05 IST
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif ahead of bilateral talks in Russia's Ufa on Friday. (Photo: PIB)

The post-Ufa incidents along the Indo-Pak border might seem to be making politically untenable the Narendra Modi regime’s proposed talks to stabilise relations with Pakistan. But it must hang on, stay the course and not give in to the media-whipped public outrage.

The genesis of the Kandahar blunder the Vajpayee government committed a decade-and-a-half ago was in the public pressure brought to bear upon it at a time it needed to decide with a level head. The situation today isn't as grave -- there are no lives at risk in a hijacked plane. And the mechanisms detailed in the Ufa accord are aimed precisely at addressing, defusing and pre-emptying situations akin to what's at hand on the inflamed borders.

Rather than reconsidering talks, New Delhi could test Islamabad's commitment to peace by proposing early meetings between the DGMOs, the BSF and Pakistan Rangers and the two national security advisors. That would demonstrate its own commitment to pursue dialogue while ascertaining Pakistan’s willingness to keep its part of the peace bargain.

The tentative understanding at Ufa was to start the process after August 15. But meetings between DGMOs and heads of paramilitary forces that guard the borders have been held at short notice in the past.

In the face of fresh border skirmishes, foreign secretary S Jaishankar was unambiguous about India’s resolve to repel any Pakistani adventurism along the LoC and international borders. But while so asserting, he appeared on the same page as his Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry on the Ufa promise of reopening talks.

In fact, the joint statement on the sidelines of the SCO summit couldn’t have found Nawaz Sharif’s endorsement without the army’s prior approval. The Pakistan Premier has lately build bridges with Rawalpindi -- for whom peace on the eastern borders is essential to fight insurgency on the western frontiers with Afghanistan.

If correct, the perception diminishes the possibility of the latest exchange of fire being part of an organised attempt to deconstruct Ufa. On the pact’s silence on Kashmir that could possibly have activated ideological freelancers on the Pakistani side, a diplomat said it delineated the decisions, not the nature of the discussions. Even Sharif’s NSA Sartaj Aziz had interpreted the statement as one relating to mutually agreed deliverables such as combating terrorism and ensuring tranquillity on the borders.

Unless geared to facilitate infiltration or create fissures in the PDP-BJP coalition in J-K, tensions along the borders do not, either tactically or on a cost-benefit analysis, suit the Pakistan army even if it’s unhappy with what transpired at Ufa, noted a Pakistan watcher.

Be that as it may, he said, it’s for Islamabad to decide what kind of a relationship it wants with New Delhi. For its part, the Modi dispensation should be able to weather criticism at home against lack of clarity in its policy by showing Ufa as what it actually is -- an intent to resume dialogue, not any kind of a “breakthrough” in bilateral ties.

So the wisdom indeed is in giving diplomacy a chance amid gunfire. For shooting down peace isn't going to silence our borders. Only talks will -- howsoever nebulously. An uninterrupted dialogue will also keep on track the PM’s visit to Pakistan for the 2016 Saarc Summit.


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