Elements in Pakistan seem hell bent on either derailing the talks between the national security advisers of India and Pakistan later this month, or are making sure that there is plenty for both sides to argue about. India is currently both horrified and transfixed by the tale of the captured Pakistani terrorist who, along with an accomplice, ambushed a BSF convoy at Udhampur, killing two paramilitary troopers. The terrorist has been circulating different narratives to confuse interrogators. He has referred to himself by four different names, and there is a lack of clarity as to when he entered India, either 12 or 45 days ago. But he (and other militants) managed to infiltrate from the Baramulla-Kupwara sector in Kashmir, travel through the Valley and stay in a ‘tunnel-type place’, before firing on a BSF vehicle and getting captured by unarmed villagers whom he took hostage.
Mohammad Naved (alias Qasim) is not the first Pakistani militant to be captured in India. As analysts have pointed out, 44 Pakistani militants were captured while infiltrating last year and several others are in jails across Jammu and Kashmir. But what makes this incident significant is that it is part of a spike in terrorist incidents ahead of talks between NSAs Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz. These include the attack at Gurdaspur and a grenade blast at Anantnag on July 29, which injured four soldiers. The ambush at Udhampur has given rise to fears that terrorists are deliberately targeting the Jammu region to exploit the sensitive communal situation at certain places.
It is tempting to grandstand now and walk away from dialogue, but the Narendra Modi government has rightly decided to continue with the talks. This is consistent with the assumption that nation states that have differences have no option but to engage in a robust exchange of views, as that is preferable to signalling to each other via violent hostilities. Since each of the two countries accuses one another of destabilising it, a dialogue is imperative for communicating intent and discussing outcomes of current policy. Mr Doval has recently spoken about India’s need to “punch appropriately” and exercising power when a country possesses it. The dialogue with Mr Aziz will afford another opportunity for India to reiterate its red lines. The Congress, meanwhile, must use responsible rhetoric and not needlessly accuse the government of being ‘soft on terror’, even if it was subject to the same accusation during the UPA years. The Opposition has the right to interrogate the outcome of the talks but it should unstintingly back engagement, as that is very much in the national interest.