Saturday, June 20, 2009




     Regardless of the spin that is being put on the reasons for India going back to the dialogue table with Pakistan, the fact remains that the Pakistanis were correct in their assessment that the Indians did not have what it takes to stick to the hard-line that the Indian leadership had taken vis-a-vis Pakistan after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Even at that time, the Pakistanis were confident that all the tough talk by the Indians was only that. They had made light of the show of outrage by the Indian establishment and suggested that domestic politics – four crucial Indian states were in the midst of an election and the general election was just a few months away – was behind the decision of the Indian government to suspend the bilateral dialogue process. The Pakistanis were cocksure that after the elections the Indians would be back on the talks table. And if the Indians continued to play hard-ball, the Americans would make sure that they fell in line, as indeed they have done. What is most galling, however, is the timing of resumption of dialogue. Coming as it does barely a fortnight after the release of the Lashkar-e-Taiba founder, Hafiz Saeed, it almost appears as though India has rewarded Pakistan for this subterfuge.

    Surely, the government of India owes an explanation to the Indian people for the volte-face in Yekaterinburg. It is simply not good enough for the bureaucrats to say that they "don't want to give the terrorists a veto" or that they "don't want to set any markers for resumption of the dialogue because then the terrorists know what they have to do to stop the process". Even worse is the argument that India has no choice, much less option, except to talk to Pakistan to resolve bilateral problems. Has it taken these people over six months to realise this simple reality? Didn't all these arguments hold true even after the 26/11 attacks took place? What then was the point of derailing the dialogue process? What has India achieved or what has changed in all these months that made India resume the dialogue process?

Indeed, if talks are the only option left, as is being made out by the Indian government, then it obviously follows that the dialogue process between India and Pakistan must continue no matter what the provocation. This is so for two reasons. First, rather than reacting in a knee-jerk manner and suspending the dialogue, perhaps India would have been better off by using the dialogue process to press home its demands on Pakistan to curb terrorism against India, especially since the Pakistanis were bending over backwards to keep the dialogue process on track. What is more, the peace process is not being held only for the benefit of Pakistan, but also because it served India's interests. If India thought it has something to gain from the peace process then who was India trying to punish by refusing to talk until Pakistan met some minimum conditions? And, by now agreeing to resume talks without a single of these conditions being met, who has India harmed more – Pakistan or itself?

Secondly, it makes little sense to adopt a hard-line position which you don't have either the will or the capacity or both to sustain for any length of time. It is even worse to take such a position when the other side knows that it is only a matter of time and right amount of pressure before you resile from your hard-line position. In the end you damage your credibility in the eyes of your own people as well as rest of the world.

All this should have been known to the mandarins in the foreign office. But the problem is that while earlier we had political leaders thinking that they could leave their mark on history by solving all problems with Pakistan, now some of the Babus too have started deluding themselves that they can make a substantial contribution to make in terms of breaking the Indo-Pak logjam. While in principle there is nothing wrong with harbouring such sentiments, the question is whether these people are correct in their appreciation and understanding of the situation. In other words, have the objective conditions that obtain changed to a point where these people are justified in their efforts? Or is it the case that their romantic notions about Indo-Pak ties has made them embark on a mission that is doomed to end in failure.

One common argument in favour of re-engaging the Pakistanis is that there are enough indications to suggest that President Asif Zardari is genuinely serious in seeking good relations with India. So too is the case with some other important political players in Pakistan, including Nawaz Sharif. About Asif Zardari it is said that he is very clear on three things: one, defeating the Taliban; two, closer cooperation with Iran; and three, normalising relations with India. While Asif Zardari's intentions must be welcomed and even encouraged, India must also ask whether he, or for that matter any other political leader, has the capability to a) enter into a deal with India, and b) deliver on such a deal. Can Zardari or even Nawaz Sharif make the Pakistan army read from the same page on relations with India? Are they in a position to veto the army in case it opposes a middle of the road deal with India? And if the answer to these questions is negative, or even 'can't be sure', then perhaps extreme caution and not exuberance or unnecessary optimism about the future of relations with Pakistan would be in the order of things.

    Perhaps, it is a sign of a cautious approach that the decision to bring the composite dialogue process back on track will be taken at the political level after the foreign secretaries of the two countries meet and discuss the issue of terrorism. But the foreign secretaries meeting could just as well be another fig-leaf, no different from the joint anti-terror mechanism that was devised to save the peace process after the Mumbai train bombings. In either case, the resumption of the dialogue process appears unavoidable. All that India can do after the foreign secretaries meet is to hold out for some more time before going back to the talks table. For India to stay away from the dialogue process for any length of time is now no longer a tenable position to take.

    The lessons of the post-26/11 diplomacy are clear. Since on its own India doesn't have any way to ensure compliance from Pakistan, it depends on the support of the Western powers to make Pakistan behave. As long as India remains dependent on outside powers to pull its chestnuts out of the fire in Pakistan, it will perforce have to follow the nudges and shoves that the West – in particular, the US – gives it on Pakistan. Perhaps, these are the wages of entering into a 'strategic partnership' with a superpower. The big question now is whether the demands of the superpower will remain limited to asking India to reassure Pakistan that it poses no security threat to them. Or will these demands extend to asking India to give Pakistan what it seeks on Kashmir. If it is only the former then India would be more than willing to play along. But if it is the latter, then India will have to make a simple choice: It can either tell the Americans to go take a walk or else the Indian babus can tell the people that India had abandoned Kashmir in order to give Kalavati electricity generated through nuclear power plants imported from the US.


    <1280 Words>                    21st June, 2009



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