In the midst of the furor created by Pakistan troopers killing five Indian soldiers, India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid seems to have spoken like a philosopher: “This is not the time or appropriate atmosphere in which we should be discussing talks. There will be lot of work necessary if we are to talk. Let’s wait for the appropriate time. All the inputs have to be brought in before we can take a call.”
The diplomat donning the robes of a philosopher, however, forgets that in the real world talking or not talking are not two opposite binaries. Margaret Thatcher talked to the Irish Republican Army through secret emissaries even as she battled it. Iran and Israel communicate through secret intermediaries. There are plenty of examples when back-channel diplomacy works. There are times, however, when it doesn’t work as demonstrated by the appeasement of the Nazis during the initial phase of World War II. Talking is just a process; it doesn’t guarantee an outcome.
Khurshid will do well to remember that the 1997 dialogue with Pakistan remained suspended until 2004, when General Musharraf promised to choke off cross-border terrorism directed against India. Those promises have been repeatedly broken and there is enough evidence to show that Pakistan’s new PM Nawaz Sharif is either incapable of living up to those promises or unwilling to do so.
The external affairs minister will do better to advice PM Manmohan Singh to have a hard look at the statement of 40 former Indian military and civilian leaders that calls for a radical shift in India’s policy. The signatories are not aerie saffron-tainted hawks that the secular UPA is only too eager to ridicule. They include two former Army chiefs, an Air Force chief, two heads of RAW, a former director of the Intelligence Bureau, a director-general of the BSF, two foreign secretaries and two home secretaries.
There’s no better opportunity than the ongoing impasse to rid ourselves of some of the received wisdom on which the peace process rests. For instance, it’s a myth that people-to-people contacts can ward off a war. Prior to World War I, Europe was bound together as never in its history. This, however, did not ward off the subsequent blood-letting.
For effective diplomacy, dialogue can yield result only if a nation can devise and enforce policies that would impose heavy costs on a neighbour for crossing red lines. Instead of rushing to the table, India must first work out an action plan that’ll impose a cost on Pakistan for its export of terror and thus change the cost-benefit calculus of these policies.
Pakistan’s military establishment has a vested interest in keeping tensions with India alive, especially when the Islamic fundamentalists are doing everything to undermine its credibility as the guardian of the Islamic Republic. Short of waging a war, there are many options that India can explore. It could execute more aggressive retaliation against infiltration across the Line of Control, limited raids on jihad training camps and target the terrorist leadership.
The UPA’s Pakistan policy can be best viewed as a tragic waste where it has nothing to boast of any tangible gains achieved in return for its obsessive pursuance of its one-point agenda of “Peace with Pakistan at Any Cost”.
India’s Pakistan-apologists advocating that the pursuance of the India-Pakistan peace dialogues should “neither be interrupted nor be uninterruptible” stand divorced from the strategic and security realities. The Pakistan Army will continue to indulge in provocative actions to nullify the process just to retain its hold on Pakistan’s governance.
The government must anchor India’s foreign policy exclusively to strategic and national security interests. In case of Pakistan, this should be an imperative till such time the people of Pakistan drive out the army from its India-policy formulation process. Peace dialogues need to be discontinued as an attendant corollary with only a modicum of minimum diplomatic relations to continue.
Gaur is a former Allahabad University professor and rights activist