Is it necessary to talk to Pakistan?
The conventional wisdom is that India must keep talking to Pakistan even if there are terrorist outrages by the supposedly non-state actors operating from the sovereign precincts of Pakistan. The believed-to-be ‘hardliner’ Narendra Modi, too, has accepted this line although he said before the last general election that a dialogue cannot take place against the sound of gunfire in the background.
As his latest initiatives show, he has changed his mind after assuming power. He is now ready to go more than halfway to accommodate Pakistan. It is possible that his motivation is the unstated ambition of Indian prime ministers, especially those of recent years, to write their names in history books via a permanent peace accord with Pakistan.
Although it is presumed that the Pakistan army is the main obstacle to such a settlement because it will rob them of their salience in the country’s political life, the Indians – and now apparently even Nawaz Sharif – appear to be keen on ignoring the Pakistani generals and continue the negotiations. This much is evident even as the Pathankot may have temporarily stalled the dialogue process. There is little doubt, however, that sooner or later, the talks will be resumed.
But are they necessary at all? Instead of persisting with the seemingly futile exercise of meetings at regular intervals at the level of foreign secretaries or national security advisers or even the prime ministers while the Pakistan army prepares to sabotage the talks by sending well-trained terrorists across the border, wouldn’t it be better if New Delhi offered a take-it-or-leave-it proposal to Islamabad and leave it at that?
The outline of the proposal will be to finalize the border question by a mutual acceptance of the Line of Control (LoC) as the international boundary. A deal on these terms was said to be nearly clinched in Manmohan Singh’s and Pervez Musharraf’s time.
Although it will be unacceptable to the Pakistan Army since an arrangement of this nature will nullify its dream of ‘conquering’ the whole of Kashmir and instead remain satisfied with only the moth-eaten ‘Azad’ Kashmir in a moth-eaten country – to use Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s description of Pakistan on the eve of partition – New Delhi can still insist that this is its final offer.
Its proviso will be: accept it or there will be no further talks. To Indians as also to the rest of the world, it will seem like a sensible solution after so many decades of bitterness and bloodshed if only because it will put an end to the unending tension in a region which is seen as a nuclear flashpoint.
India will also be able to tell the world that it is willing to forget the parliamentary injunction of recovering the “lost” portion of Kashmir for the sake of peace.
However, since the Pakistan army will be unwilling to accept the proposal as the unfinished business of the partition, in its eyes, will remain unfinished, its unflattering image of being the main hindrance to a settlement will be reinforced.
How will the average Pakistani respond? The jihadis are unlikely to stop sneaking across the border with the army’s and the ISI’s help to murder and create mayhem in India. But they will know, as will their patrons that their depredations will be in a vacuum, so to say, since their original purpose of snapping the lines of communication and thereby pressurizing India no longer exists.
Their acts of terror, therefore, will only bring further disrepute to the Pakistan army and the ISI – staining their name which will be disconcerting to the vast majority of Pakistanis, to whom the jehadi rampages are likely to seem increasing meaningless.
It will become obvious that the Pakistan army and the ISI have painted themselves in a corner by taking an uncompromising stand on Kashmir. At one time, their position may have made sense when the Americans and West in general wanted India to concede some unspecified ground on Kashmir.
But by encouraging terrorism virtually worldwide and harbouring Osama bin Laden in a safe house near an army cantonment, the Pakistan army has shot itself in the foot. It must now be aware that it is chasing a mirage in Kashmir. There is no way that it can wrest what New Delhi regards as its integral part (“atoot ang”) from India either by direct military action, as in Kargil, or by sending jihadis across the border.
India, on its part, has little to lose, except suffer occasionally from the terrorist attacks which will induce Washington to keep urging Pakistan to rein in the terrorists – both the “good” ones like the anti-India Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and the “bad” anti-Pakistan ones like Tehreek-e-Taliban.
Having made its final offer, India can afford to wait and focus its attention on the economy. It can even urge Pakistan to facilitate greater trade between the two countries even as Islamabad mulls over the offer on Kashmir.
But there will be no more dialogues of the deaf, as the India-Pakistan talks have sometimes been called, with the two sides going over the same points over and over again with little hope of moving forward.