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Talk to Pakistan, but not just now

The doors for negotiations should always be open between the two countries but the agenda should be determined keeping in mind our own foreign policy, security and strategic interests, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Feb 07, 2010 22:26 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The Indian government’s offer to hold talks with Pakistan is not likely to go down well with the aam aadmi in this country. The general feeling is that Pakistan is the perpetrator of terrorism on our soil and until all terror structures are dismantled in that country, there should be no dialogue at the top level. In fact, no sooner did the announcement come there was an anti-India rally in Lahore. On the same day, anti-India forces called for a war against us in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. What is most significant is that the ‘Yakjaiti-e-Kashmir’ (Kashmir solidarity conference) was attended there by players who are said to be masterminds of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008. The meeting was convened by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a front of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and addressed by Abdul Rehman Makki, Syed Salahuddin, the commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen and former ISI chief Hamid Gul.

In this context, the timing of the talks offer was wrong particularly when the scars of various strikes by these outfits are yet to heal in India. It is obvious that New Delhi has not read the situation in Pakistan correctly and has probably agreed to this ‘proximity dialogue’’ with Islamabad due to pressure from the United States.

There are many strategic experts and diplomats who are of the view that a foreign secretary-level engagement should happen only after some sort of satisfactory response on terror comes from across the border. The situation in Pakistan is such that even its own government does not appear to have control over certain events. On top of that, their Army Chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, has been quoted by the media as saying that the Pakistani Army was India-centric.

Thus, in face of such hostile reactions, should India go in for this dialogue? It is common knowledge that the army and the ISI are dominant players in the affairs of their country and the civilian government does not have any real influence on policies. In addition, the civilian government has limited control over its own territory and its own people. So even if a serious attempt to engage Islamabad is made, its success will depend on how the army and the ISI react to the outcome.

Intelligence agencies here are rightly very nervous about this initiative and believe that the line between State-sponsored terrorism and non-State sponsored terrorism in Pakistan has blurred over the years. In addition there are groups getting all kinds of support from the ISI, which choose to strike in India and South Asia while there are others who target only westerners and Americans. It has been correctly stated that Pakistan is the epicentre of global terrorism and also terrorism in India. Its identity depends on its anti-India posturing.

It serves America’s interests that there is no conflict between New Delhi and Islamabad since in event of a confrontation, Pakistan may get an excuse to disengage itself from its war against groups in Waziristan and other parts of their country and Afghanistan. The US has already set a deadline for the withdrawal of its troops and wants to go about this business with the help of Pakistan.

But unlike India’s initiative where the proposed talks will be held between civilian entities, the US and also Afghanistan deal directly with the army in Islamabad. Obviously, the Americans know only too well that it is the army that calls the
shots there.

The doors for negotiations should always be open between the two countries but the agenda should be determined keeping in mind our own foreign policy, security and strategic interests. For this, the ability to read the situation in Pakistan correctly is necessary. Unless we want to get into a Sharm-el-Sheikh type controversy. Between us.