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First, set the agenda right

The question is whether it makes sense to pursue a policy of dialogue with Islamabad after the Jammu twin terror attacks. The principle of dialogue is sacrosanct. India-Pakistan dialogue needs to be more productive than what it is now.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2013 22:28 IST

The twin militant attacks that killed 13 people in J-K on Thursday have added to a rising graph of bloodshed inside the state and along the Line of Control (LoC). There is little doubt that this spike in violence is being encouraged by the Pakistani army.

One of the lessons of the years under General Pervez Musharraf is that Pakistan’s army can turn off militant infiltration in a manner not dissimilar from a person turning off a tap. Only nine Indian servicemen were killed in Kashmir last year. This year the number is already at 38.

The question is whether it makes sense to pursue a policy of dialogue with Islamabad with this violence taking place. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he will still meet his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on Sunday despite the recent incidents. There is a strategic logic to this, though it may not fit nicely with the more short-term requirements of domestic politics. Mr Sharif, like any civilian Pakistani ruler, has no say over his country’s policies towards India. That is determined by the generals.

Violence or peace along the LoC or in the Valley is a separate Pakistani policy towards India, one run by soldiers. Talk of the most favoured nation status and increased people-to-people contact is another Pakistani policy towards India, one run by civilians. New Delhi supports the latter and hopes to make it a narrative that comes to dominate the first policy. This nearly succeeded with Gen Musharraf but has been struggling with the present set-up. Nonetheless, as a strategy, it remains the sensible way to go given the importance of Pakistan’s future to that of India’s.

The real criticism of Mr Singh’s meeting with Mr Sharif lies not in the act of meeting or the principle of dialogue. In recent memory, all of India’s PMs have pursued dialogue with Pakistan. Once in power, the logic of doing so is so obvious that it overrides any previous sentiments. However, given the more volatile political environment in India these days, summit-level meetings in particular need to be thought through carefully.

For example, the Indian public seems tolerant of diplomacy with a terror backdrop if the talk-talk generates tangible gains. This is what makes the Singh-Sharif meeting, with its non-existent agenda, troubling. The principle of dialogue is sacrosanct. But photo-op meetings expend political capital for minimal gain. A true summit, with a full agenda and a bouquet of accomplishment, is bulletproofed against violence by the enemies of peace.