The Indian government has asked Pakistan to take “prompt and decisive action” against handlers of the attack on Pathankot before talks between foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan. Though the government has not categorically stated that the meeting has been put on hold, the tough pre-condition effectively means the two countries are unlikely to go ahead with the talks scheduled for 15 January in Islamabad.
Making India’s stand clear on the bilateral talks, MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup on Thursday said, "The ball is in Pakistan’s court. We are waiting for Pakistan's action on actionable intelligence... we are not giving any time frame... prompt means prompt."
While replying to a question on the fate of the talks, the foreign ministry official began by saying, "Let me preface this." He then went on detailing how India wants friendly relations with all its neighbours including Pakistan and the decision to hold comprehensive dialogue between the two countries was taken after a constructive meeting between the NSAs of India and Pakistan, who discussed all aspects concerning the two countries, including terror and the situation along the Line of Control.
"The Pathankot attack has put renewed focus on cross border terrorism", he said. The official kept referring to the telephonic conversation between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on 5 January. During the conversation Modi had strongly emphasised the need for Pakistan to take firm and immediate action against the organisations and individuals responsible for the Pathankot attack.
The "actionable intelligence" against Pakistani handlers and against Jaish-e-Mohammad mentor Maulana Masood Azhar was shared by India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval with his Pakistani counterpart. During the past five days, the two NSAs have spoken more than once. Earlier reports suggested that India wanted the NSAs of the two countries to meet before the foreign secretaries. But now that's a thing of past.
Prior to the conversation between the two PMs, many in India and Pakistan believed that talks would go ahead as scheduled. But the fine prints of the 5 January statement issued by the MEA, after the conversation between the two PMs, had given enough indications of the conditions attached.
Since the time Pathankot terror attack took place within a week of his surprise visit to Lahore, Modi has faced flack from various quarters about the twists and turns in his government’s Pakistan policy. He was also under tremendous domestic pressure from his social constituents and support base. It was becoming difficult for him to negotiate peace when sections of Pakistan's establishment continued to pursue cross border terrorism in complete disregard to his and Sharif's overtures for peace.
By imposing tough preconditions on talks, Modi is trying to address his domestic constituency. But, it will however, make his critics argue that he has made yet another volte face on Pakistan policy.
It remains to be seen how Pakistan responds to India's demands and conditions. Modi and Sharif have struck a personal rapport but a crackdown against perpetrators of terror attacks in India originating from Pakistan is a different ball game. His domestic constituency and army many not be on his side, even if assuming that he wants to comply with India’s conditions.
But, Modi can't afford to be seen soft vis-a-vis Pakistan. His success would depend on making Pakistan yield to his demands for prompt and decisive action against terror groups and their handlers.