Originally Published 2010-02-16 00:00:00 Published on Feb 16, 2010
Pakistan argues that absence of a dialogue allows the terrorists to dictate the agenda, but has Pakistan suppressed these groups?
Why the flip-flop?
Our sudden decision to resume talks with Pakistan is inconsistent with signals coming from the government in recent months. Lately, official statements on Pakistan have shown some hardening of tone and a new note of realism. It could be because of Pakistan’s obduracy in refusing to deal with jihadi terrorism directed at India and prevarication on Mumbai. It could also be because of the government’s assessment that the resumption of dialogue may not be advisable at a time when the political and security situation in Pakistan had badly deteriorated, the civilian government was weak and the military had regained its earlier dominant stature in the polity. The government may have also felt the need to show itself to be more hard headed about reaching out to Pakistan again after the political backlash of the Sharm el Sheikh joint statement.

Indian statements in recent months seemed to restore indirectly the link between dialogue and terrorism by demanding repeatedly that for the dialogue to be meaningful Pakistan must act credibly against those responsible for the Mumbai attack. This link had been discarded earlier against the dictates of political and practical realities. The combat against terrorism now occupies a central place in international security and the world’s most powerful states are grappling with the problem, with military force when required. Although India is one of the world’s worst victims of cross border terrorism we have been willing to   be flexible about the centrality of the issue in our dealings with Pakistan. We have attached greater importance to engaging Pakistan politically and hoping that the positive fall out of this engagement would be diminished Pakistani state support to terrorist activity against us.

Prime Minister’s own recent statements could have been interpreted to mean that he saw little practical possibility of resuming the dialogue with Pakistan at any time early. A couple of months ago he publicly accused Pakistan of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. He also alluded to the political disarray in Pakistan impeding the resumption of contacts when he said that India did not know who to talk to in Pakistan at present. The External Affairs Minister too has been more expansive in public about Pakistan, with some tough statements emanating from him. The absence of a meeting between him and his Pakistani counterpart in London on the margins of the international conference on Afghanistan would also suggest that an early resumption of dialogue was not being envisaged. The Foreign Secretary has been quite robust in asserting the need for Pakistan to move forward on terrorism for the dialogue to resume. If indeed a renewed opening towards Pakistan was on the agenda, the government would normally not have allowed polemics with Pakistan to continue till the very moment it was divulged that at our initiative the dialogue with Pakistan would resume at Foreign Secretaries level.

The government has not given any official explanation for taking this sudden step. Is it satisfied with the steps taken by Pakistan to punish those responsible for the Mumbai attack? As we were still asking for Pakistan to perform better on this count until very recently, what is that additional significant step Pakistan has taken that has persuaded us to restore the dialogue? As the problem of terrorism for us is much wider in scope than the undertrials of Mumbai, involving as it does, the JuD, the activities of Let and JeM, what is it that gives us confidence that the Pakistan government will be ready to deal forcefully with the Punjab based jihadi groups? Have we now concluded only a few months after we stated this publicly at the highest political level that Pakistan is no longer using terrorism as an instrument of state policy? Do we now believe that Pakistan has sorted out its internal political disarray sufficiently, and that we now know who to talk to in Pakistan?

Selective briefings to the press from unidentified official sources on the sense of the initiative do not enlighten much. Clearly we have delinked dialogue from terrorism once again. What was sought to be done explicitly at Sharm el Sheikh is being done implicitly with the latest initiative.  We say that we will raise the issue of terrorism with Pakistan, but what is the basis for expecting a better response from them this time? What new pressure will we bring to bear on Pakistan? Pakistan has already said it will raise the issue of Indian support for terrorism in Baluchistan. In the talks Pakistan’s attempt will be to make India as answerable to its accusations as we would want to make Pakistan accountable for terrorism against us. Pakistan is already charging us with making too much of a fuss about Mumbai, and has trivialized its enormity in inter-state relations by claiming that it experiences a Mumbai almost daily in its own country.

Pakistan argues that absence of a dialogue allows the terrorists to dictate the agenda. But has Pakistan suppressed these groups? Even now they are acting only against those groups that target the Pakistani state. Why are rabid anti-Indian jihadi leaders allowed to congregate and make venomous speeches against India, as they did a few days ago in Muzaffarabad? Has the Pakistani military ceased looking at them as military assets for its confrontation with India? In reality Pakistan wants even now to use the terrorist threat from these groups as a means of pressure on India, either to impose serious political, economic and social costs on India or obtain concessions in J&K. Pakistan demands a dialogue with India without any real commitment to suppress Panjabi jihadi groups, whereas india seeks a dialogue in the hope Pakistan would develop the commitment to specifically deal with these groups, and that is the crux of the problem.

As before, Pakistan will not see the latest Indian move as either an act of statesmanship or an extension of its democratic hand for those elements in Pakistan to grasp that may feel beleagured by the rising Islamic tide in the country and the daily diet of internal religious violence that it is being fed on. Pakistani decision makers will, instead, see the Indian initiative as a failure of Indian diplomacy and a bid by India to break out from the corner it had painted itself in. They will contrast this with their success in not changing course even though in deep waters. This would explain the somewhat truimphant tone of Pakistani Foreign Minister’s comments on India’s initiative, to the effect that dialogue and terrorism should be delinked, that if India has concerns about Mumbai and Hafiz Saeed, Pakistan will put Balochistan on the table, that Kashmir, which is an internationally recognized issue and is on the UN agenda, will be raised, that Kashmiri aspirations cannot be overlooked, and that the water dispute, which too is internationally recognized, will also be tabled.

The augury for the forthcoming Foreign Secretary level talks is not good. While in no mood to meet India’s demands, Pakistan has conjured up contentious demands of its own, whether on Baluchistan or water issues, so that it can continue its confrontation with us in good Pakistani conscience.

The writer is a former Foreign Secretary and can be contacted as [email protected]

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