Pakistan's hostility towards India makes 'talks' a charade; New Delhi must find ways of forcing Islamabad to change
Time and again, India has shown the willingness to engage and every time, Pakistan has sabotaged it, either through its own actions or those of non-state actors.
India and Pakistan are now engaged in a new round of charges and counter-charges after the former cancelled the meeting of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, after agreeing to it a few days before. The announcement of the meeting between the two ministers on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly session, coming on the heels of a new government led by Imran Khan in Pakistan assuming power, had renewed hopes for peace in both the countries.
Well, not exactly.
It was a trap, set for India, and we willingly walked into it.
If one looks at the recent past, it is clear that Pakistan has a record of treachery and sabotaging talks. Time and again, New Delhi has shown the willingness to engage and every time, Islamabad has sabotaged it, either through its own actions or actions perpetrated by the Pakistan Army sponsored non-state actors. This charade has become so repetitive that it’s no longer surprising and yet, something which time and again India has fallen for.
Consider the following examples:
The February 1999 Lahore bus diplomacy of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the bonhomie between the two countries, was quickly met with the sabotage of the Pakistani Army when it occupied positions in Kargil in May 1999. The two back-to-back events have come to define Pakistan’s treacherous attitude. But there are many.
In 2001, after the failed Agra Summit between India and Pakistan in July of that year, Pakistan-based terrorists first targeted the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in October, followed by the Indian Parliament in December.
In 2014, after the Pakistan prime minister joined the swearing-in ceremony for Narendra Modi, India announced foreign secretary level talks. But weeks before the talks, the Pakistan High Commission held consultations with Kashmiri separatist leaders in Delhi- a clear attempt to sabotage the spirit of talks, which angered India, leading to the cancellation of scheduled talks.
But Modi persisted. In December 2015, he paid an impromptu visit to Lahore to hold informal talks with Nawaz Sharif. But his enthusiasm was met with an embarrassing attack on India's frontline airbase at Pathankot by the Jaish-e-Mohammad a few days later.
In all these cases, India had shown willingness – mixed with somewhat uncalled for enthusiasm – to hold talks with Pakistan, despite absolutely no evidence of a change in the Pakistan Army’s thinking and the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
This time too, India fell for the sweet talk of Imran Khan. And this time too, the surging violence in the Kashmir Valley and ISI's attempt to stir trouble, meant that India had to face the ignominy of announcing the cancellation of talks with the usual rhetoric that “terror and talks” cannot go together. Even though India insisted that the proposed meeting between Swaraj and Qureshi was not the resumption of dialogue, Islamabad claimed it to be so.
The current enthusiasm was even more puzzling because credible media reports had suggested that India had rebuffed Pakistan Army's readiness for talks and that New Delhi had been effectively highlighting Pakistan's dubious record on cross-border terrorism.
This is not to suggest that prospects for India-Pakistan dialogue are always bleak. Rather, a much smarter approach of holding back channel talks, away from the glare of media and terrorist groups, in a third country needs to be pursued, as was done in the NSA-level talks in Bangkok in November 2016 and in December 2017.
But more importantly, if our security establishment has concluded that Pakistan’s fundamental behaviour to harm India will not change in the foreseeable future, then clearly we need to develop a more meaningful policy of building levers to compel Pakistan to change its behaviour, as has been suggested by some in the strategic community, rather than thinking in binary terms – talks/no talks and emotional outbursts after every terrorist attack.
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