The terrorist attack on Mumbai encapsulates every argument as to why India should not resume its dialogue with Pakistan. But then, the effects of terrorism on Afghanistan point to why India should resume talks with Pakistan. As dysfunctional as Pakistan is today, it is still some distance away from how bad it can become. As the country most likely to suffer the consequences of a militant Islamicist takeover of Pakistan, India’s long-term priority is a policy that abets the normalisation of its unsteady neighbour even at the cost of instant justice.
Mumbai should not be forgotten. It is a reminder that terrorism will take place even while dialogue is taking place with Pakistan. The subsequent release of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba founder Hafeez Mohammed Saeed is a reminder that Islamabad will take on the terrorist groups it helped create with reluctance. But Mumbai is a symptom of a larger malaise afflicting Pakistan and not the disease itself. It must be India’s long-term goal to try and treat the disease as nothing threatens its own
economic and social aspirations more than the spread of the Taliban to its western border.
One of the means to try and normalise Pakistan is to talk about bilateral problems — and talk hard when necessary. The semi-successes India had while negotiating with President Pervez Musharraf are a reminder that even sworn enemies can change their views. Even though Manmohan Singh verbally rebuked him in Yekaterinburg, no one doubts that Asif Ali Zardari is no supporter of terrorism. In any case, India has few sticks to use when it comes to herding Islamabad down the right path. Military retaliation and other tit-for-tat policies have limited utility in an environment of nuclear weapons.
Diplomatic isolation only buttresses those in Pakistan who hate India. This hardly means that India should talk for the sake of talking. For one, it must work to set an agenda that is to its advantage. Mumbai, at the very least, means any ‘new talks’ agenda must be skewed towards the issue of terrorism. Negotiating with Pakistan is like building a house on sand. Sudden changes in weather can lead to whole sections disappearing. But the alternative — no house at all — is still worse. Which is why the effort must continue to be made.