Talks with Pak should not become victim of Gurdaspur attack
Foreign policy experts cognisant of the popular outrage in India over the Gurdaspur terror attack, have counselled against any knee jerk Indian response by way of abandoning the Ufa process for talks with Pakistan on terrorism and border incidents.
These experts cite the transformative regional environment to advocate bilateral engagement with Islamabad. The talks between Kabul and the Taliban are being hosted in Pakistan under the watch of the US and China. The first round happened earlier this month and the second round is due end-July.
The international players whose support and understanding New Delhi needs in tackling Islamabad with its multiple power centres, are currently focussed on Af-Pak. An Indian distraction escalating matters to a flash point on the eastern borders isn't likely to go down well with them and might isolate us at a time when we need equity in the region, said a diplomat.
Another foreign service hand pointed out that in Washington's scheme, the primacy of Af-Pak developments was evident from the recent visit to Pakistan of its top general in Afghanistan, John F Campbell, during which he met Gen. Raheel Sharif. He also mentioned in that context US Secretary of State John Kerry's talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi early this year before visiting Islamabad.
Another little known factor that drives home the talks imperative is the feeling in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation that India and Pakistan could carry their disputes to the grouping, of which they recently became full members at Ufa. In fact Uzbek President Islam Karimov had expressed such apprehensions to Russia's Vladimir Putin.
Significantly, the SCO chair will be with Uzbekistan when ratification of our membership comes up next year in the group whose objectives of economic cooperation are predicated on regional peace. "There is a strategic balance India has to maintain to be seen as a responsible nuclear power in the region," the foreign service official said. For that, it isn't the time now to walk away from the Ufa pact for talks.
Be that as it may, the NDA's and Narendra Modi's challenge on the domestic front is that the Gurdaspur attack is widely viewed as an act of provocation from across the border. If they don't react, they'd look helpless before their core constituents used to seeing blood. And if they do, they might end up causing incalculable harm to India's international image, quite linked to which is its rightful place in the region.
So now's the time for serious public diplomacy within the country. "The PM must explain to the people why the process he has initiated must go on," advised a diplomat privy to the Af-Pak developments. "India must not be seen as a spanner in the works."