It is very easy to take the position that we must have a dialogue with Pakistan. Arguments in favour can appear plausible. Pakistan is a neighbour and you cannot wish it away. It is better therefore to talk to it whatever the provocation. Not talking to Pakistan will not make it more disposed to settle the existing problems between us.
On the contrary, the absence of a dialogue gives those against friendship with India more room to pursue their negative policies and keep the bogey of an Indian threat alive. Elements of Pakistan’s civil society who are concerned about the direction the country is headed because of its current policies, and favour improved India-Pakistan ties, get further marginalized if India refuses to talk to Pakistan. India’s own economic development and global rise requires normalisation of ties with its neighbours. We should therefore see dialogue as part of our larger strategy to come into our own.
Talking from a posture of strength makes sense as a strategy as the adversary knows that other, harder options are available to the other side if a genuine opportunity to resolve differences through dialogue is spurned.
Terrorism from Pakistani soil directed at India is no doubt a serious problem, but this problem will not go away simply because we don’t talk to Pakistan. Pakistan is itself facing a serious terrorism problem of its own. It may therefore be more ready than before to deal with a common problem. Let us test them as much as we can. After a point the policy of no dialogue gives decreasing returns and becomes unsustainable.
Not talking to Pakistan also exposes us to international pressure as the rest of the world, nervous about hostility between the two nuclear neighbours, wants the two to be seen talking. India as a more responsible, bigger and stronger power is expected to take the lead. The most vocal advocates of dialogue with Pakistan want it to be politically insulated from any break-down because of terrorist attacks from Pakistan, and continued come what may.
All this is very well. It makes those who uphold this position look reasonable, mature, moderate, sober, and even statesmanlike. But we have to ask ourselves whether many of the premises of the unconditional pro-dialogue votaries are necessarily correct. Having a dialogue cannot be an end by itself. It has to lead somewhere; it has to serve some objectives. It cannot be an endless process, unrelated to the results being achieved in practice. The time frame in which results should be visible has to be realistic. Simply talking to an adversary or an enemy cannot be the sole content of policy. Talking can be part of an integrated policy, with other measures in reserve in case the attempts at securing results through dialogue fail, so that a desire to talk is not seen as helplessness, lack of any other option, inability to take hard decisions or the result of external pressure.
Talking from a posture of strength makes sense as a strategy as the adversary knows that other, harder options are available to the other side if a genuine opportunity to resolve differences through dialogue is spurned. But doing so because dialogue is considered inherently good and desirable, and hope and wishful thinking is the underlying rationale, and realities that stare one in the face are ignored, then such an approach can be counterproductive. It is like having a jurisprudence that provides only for talking to and reasoning with a criminal to give up his errant ways instead of punishing him for breach of law. Will such an approach deter crime in society or actually encourage it? It has also to be recognized that another major terrorist attack can bring any renewed dialogue to a halt because the public reaction will be strong. The public expects the state to protect the lives of its citizens.
At the Track II level, Pakistanis equate Hafiz Saeed with Bal Thackeray, as if the latter is also heading a terrorist organisation conducting terrorist attacks against Pakistan.
The dialogue-seekers in India overlook the simple fact that India has already engaged Pakistan in a dialogue. Those who say on our side, echoing the Pakistani line that we should now go beyond Mumbai, disregard the reality that the Indian leadership has already politically transcended the Mumbai terror carnage. Why are we beating ourselves on the dialogue issue as if we are the recalcitrant side? We have opened the doors of dialogue on successive occasions. India engaged Pakistan in a dialogue at Ekaterinaberg, New York, Sharm el Sheikh, Delhi (Foreign Secretary level talks), then at Thimphu and now again at Islamabad with FS level talks and those at the level of Home Ministers. The Foreign Ministers of the two countries will meet in July in Islamabad.
What have these dialogue initiatives produced so far? Pakistan released Hafiz Saeed before Ekaterinaberg, withdrew the case against him before Sharm el Sheikh, allowed him to stage a huge rally and pour venom against India before the FS level talks at New Delhi. Pakistan’s continues to say that they need India to substantiate its charges against Hafiz Saeed. The West Punjab government is providing budgetary funding for Jamaat-ud-Dawa, declared a terrorist organization by the UN Security Council, ostensibly to finance its charitable activity. At the Track II level, Pakistanis equate Hafiz Saeed with Bal Thackeray, as if the latter is also heading a terrorist organisation conducting terrorist attacks against Pakistan. Hafiz Saeed’s rantings would not bother us if they were merely a reprehensible domestic phenomenon and were not integrated into jihadi attacks against India.
The import of Pakistan’s unwillingness to act against Hafiz Saeed should be clearly seen. It means Pakistan does not want to take action against Punjab based jihadi groups, nurtured by it for years to pressure India through terrorism. It is not Hafiz Saeed that is important, but what he represents. It is the political will to deal with these instruments of Pakistan’s state sponsored terror that is under test. The United Jihadi Council led by Salahuddin remains active in POK. Infiltration levels into J&K from across the Line of Control are going up. Our Defence Minister says there are scores of training camps still functioning on the Pakistani side. So where is the evidence of dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism that India has been demanding?