HT View | Is it time for India-Pakistan diplomacy?
After Pulwama, India was outraged. And New Delhi rightly changed the rules of engagement with Pakistan and showed that Islamabad’s strategy of using non-State terror groups to wage an assymetric war comes at a price. The decision to use air strikes to target a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp was the correct one. The Pakistani deep State needed to understand that this is a new India; an impatient India, which will not continue to absorb attacks sponsored by them. It will not get bullied by nuclear blackmail; it will push the envelope with retaliatory responses or ‘pre-emptive strikes’; and it has the support of a large section of the international community in this battle against terror. The Narendra Modi government laid out new red lines, executed a successful and proportional mission, and played its diplomatic cards well.
Pakistan was rattled on Tuesday. As a sovereign state, whose very identity and ideological rationale is based on its opposition of India, the strikes deep in its territory dealt a humiliating blow. In a polity with an all-powerful army, it raised serious questions about Pakistan’s defence abilities. The strikes generated domestic pressure on the regime to respond. This, we believe, was the wrong lesson for Islamabad to draw.
What it should have learnt is that the time to back terror groups is now over. And if it does not act against them, India will. But once it had decided to retaliate to cater to its own domestic constituency, Pakistan went ahead with an air offensive across the Line of Control on Wednesday morning. In the process, both sides shot down each other’s fighters. The Pakistanis also captured one Indian Air Force pilot. It is now time to step back.
The reality is that India demonstrated its capability in a measured way and mobilised all major international powers against the use of terror. It redefined the nuclear threshold. And while it will be a long haul, it has initiated a process to change the cost-benefit calculus in Pakistan about the sponsorship of terror. At the same time, Islamabad, with its symbolic response, can show its domestic constituency that it takes attacks on sovereignty seriously. Both sides need to think about the escalatory ladder. A war will extract tremendous costs and it is time for diplomacy to take over.
The roadmap is clear. A back-channel and quiet process of negotiation between both sides must kick off. Pakistan must, immediately, hand over Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, to India. It must then categorically commit to not allowing Pakistani soil for anti-Indian activities. The international community must firmly pressure Pakistan in this direction and seek an enforceable mechanism to judge its future actions. India can then reiterate that it has no intention of prolonging the conflict; its actions were measured and will continue to be measured, as long as Islamabad fulfils its promise of cracking down on terror. There is a narrow window at the moment to de-escalate. It is time to grab it. If Pakistan doesn’t see it that way, the new India has indicated its willingness to go the distance.