Our sudden decision to resume talks with Pakistan at the foreign secretary-level can be justified if we can show that it will encourage the following: Pakistan bringing to justice those responsible for 26/11, spur Islamabad to suppress jihadi groups targeting India, strengthen those lobbies in Pakistan that seek peace with Indian democracy.
This unexpected initiative would find further justification if it can be translated into the following tangible diplomatic gains: enhancing external pressure on Pakistan to act against anti-Indian jihadi groups on its soil, holding back of US arms supplies to Pakistan, and securing our position in Afghanistan.
In reality, Pakistan has shown inadequate political will to act against the Mumbai conspirators. The West has only put pro forma pressure on Pakistan. Its priority has been to press Pakistan to act against the Pakistani Taliban, and until now, the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan’s provocative handling of Jamaat-ul-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed laid out the limits of what India could expect from Pakistan in return for political engagement. The permission given to the JuD to stage a rally in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) on February 5, with Saeed and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’s (HuM) Syed Salahuddin in high gear, and Hafiz Abdur Rehman Makki, the JuD No. 2, threatening to carry the terror war to Pune, Delhi and Kanpur — after India had proposed resumption of talks — reconfirmed Pakistan’s rejection of any linkage between bilateral talks and curbs on jihadi groups.
Overtures to Pakistan are unlikely to bring gains in terms of protecting our interests in Afghanistan. After excluding India from the Istanbul meeting on Afghanistan and after the London Conference endorsed reaching out to the Taliban, Pakistan may feel it has outmanoeuvred India. Pakistan will step up its opposition to India’s presence in Afghanistan, dialogue or no dialogue.
Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s personal stature in Pakistan has grown greatly after he convinced US and Nato forces not to press for Pakistani operations against the Afghan Taliban, persuading them instead that the legitimate interests of Pakistan and the international community in Afghanistan should be reconciled. Significantly, the statements from the civilian government in Pakistan have become shriller towards India and echo the military’s hardened line. Pakistan’s civil society, which was exhorting India to resume dialogue as a response to the existence of multiple lobbies in Pakistan, is praising Kayani and has remained mute in welcoming India’s initiative.
Triumphalism has marked Pakistan’s reaction to India’s step, with the Pakistanis making clear that India cannot set the agenda. Terrorism is not the central issue for them; they will raise Kashmir and water issues; and that India must return to the format of the composite dialogue. Far from strengthening the civilian government vis-à-vis the military, our step will be seen by the Pakistani establishment as an avowal of failure to exploit Pakistan-West fissures over terrorism/Afghanistan and an admission of our own isolation. The credit for this diplomatic success will go to Kayani’s astuteness in handling Pakistan’s interests.
The terrorist attack in Pune has put us on the mat. If a Pakistani link is discovered and we proceed with talks, we would reaffirm our willlingness to delink dialogue from terrorism, giving a virtual carte blanche to Pakistani elements.
If the meeting is called off, it would open the government to criticism for taking the initiative to resume talks when it was clear that a terrorist attack could occur at any time. New Delhi would end up by earning discredit rather than any credit for bold diplomacy.
The Pakistani elements behind the attack are conveying a strong message to India: engaging Pakistan will not give us respite from terrorism. Our great failure is that we have already disarmed ourselves politically and psychologically in fighting terror. Now we hope for a solution through talks with an adversary uninterested in making real peace with us.
Kanwal Sibal is a former Foreign Secretary, Government of India
The views expressed by the author are personal