India seems determined to resume a dialogue with Pakistan almost irrelevant of context or content. This sense is so strong that many Indians see the hand of Washington behind it. It is certainly the case that the driving force is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his oft-stated belief that the Pakistan impasse is one of a handful of barriers that stand between India and greatness.
Mr Singh’s case for a dialogue seems to be a simple cost-benefit calculation. The consequences of failed talks are largely symbolic: some humiliation, some expenditure of political capital and a small loss of face. The consequences of successful talks are enormous, going well beyond the tangible gains in security and trade. They would open the door for Indian civil society to help stabilise its beleaguered Pakistani counterpart and remove the blinkers that confine India’s strategic horizon to the subcontinent.
The renewed Thimphu process is noticeable for its seeming surrender of the Indian demand for a genuine act of atonement by Pakistan for the 26/11 terrorist attack. This a price that India could consider paying if there was a relatively good chance of success when it came to the dialogue. So far, this evidence has been hard to find.
Nonetheless, New Delhi has persevered. Mr Singh’s hopes have been kept alive by the memory of the remarkable strides taken by both sides during the backdoor negotiations held with President Pervez Musharraf. If these serve as the basis for a renewed dialogue, then there is more than ample reason to push for talks. However, the past two attempts at dialogue have gone down in flames for various reasons.
And a core reason has been a seeming ambivalence towards dialogue by the head of the Pakistani military, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The recent removal of the Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has only strengthened public doubts about the latest move.
The India-Pakistan peace process at present has less the elements of cautious diplomacy and more the character of a risky financial venture. But given the reserves of economic and political strength India has earned the past decade in contrast to Pakistan, it is a venture that may be worth the risk.
The dialogue is a high-risk, high-return investment and one that, in the final analysis, India can afford to take. New Delhi believes the Pakistani military will be supportive this time. So another roll of the dice may be worth taking, so long as the potential jackpot is kept in mind.