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A surge from New Delhi

An overly simple dichotomy dominates the present debate over India’s policy towards Pakistan, and by extension, Afghanistan. One school argues that dialogue is essential, that it makes no sense not to talk to Pakistan.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2010 21:23 IST

An overly simple dichotomy dominates the present debate over India’s policy towards Pakistan, and by extension, Afghanistan. One school argues that dialogue is essential, that it makes no sense not to talk to Pakistan. India should focus on the long-term gains of such a policy to the neglect of short-term setbacks like terrorism. The other school argues Pakistan’s military is the country’s puppet master. As it can understand little other than expressions of hard power, India is wasting its time with diplomatic niceties. The truth is both positions are right and need a place in India’s strategy. The test of statecraft is determining, in terms of time and content, the proper blend of both.

The overriding problem, seemingly borne out by the recent attack on Indians in Kabul — and Pakistani references to Afghanistan as its strategic backyard — is that Islamabad believes that for the first time since 9/11 the local geopolitical winds are behind its back. It believes its principal domestic threat, the Tehreek-e-Taliban, is on the run. It believes the US will soon withdraw from Afghanistan in a manner that will leave the Taliban groups closest to Pakistan dominant in Kabul. The military’s other domestic constraint, the presidency of Asif Ali Zardari, is diminishing daily in authority. In the past, such a backdrop would have meant an Indo-Pakistan dialogue of the deaf with Islamabad unwilling to curb terrorist groups and unwilling to be constructive about anything else. Much depends on whether Pakistan has learnt anything from the past decade. A decade in which India doubled its economic wealth, secured a de facto nuclear weapons State status, and became a member of the new generation of multinational groupings like the Group of 20. Pakistan has earned the sobriquet ‘epicentre of global terror,’ become hyphenated with Afghanistan and has been fighting terrorism spawned by its own military and ensconced within its own border. If it’s learnt something, its new-found brashness could be the basis of a constructive dialogue. India needs to find policy initiatives to ensure Islamabad, and the military in particular, treads the right path.

Persevering with the dialogue is part of such a policy. But so is reacting more strongly to what seems to be the third Pakistani-ordered attack on Indian targets in Afghanistan. India should dramatically increase the number of paramilitary guards it keeps in Afghanistan — the sort of tit for tat Rawalpindi understands. New Delhi needs to push the US to come out with a more definitive statement about its military commitment to Afghanistan. Dialogue is between two interlocutors. It also has hard and soft components.