The recent Pathankot attacks have put the spotlight on the impending Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan. India’s stand should be clearly not to engage in talks now.
Ever since the terrorist attacks on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, the public discourse is getting shriller. If we watch the TV news shows, for the last couple of days, the anchors are hell bent on shaping the public opinion in the favour of cancelling the foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan. There is strident criticism of Modi having made a surprise visit to Pakistan during Christmas last year. Of course, Modi demonstrated statesmanlike behaviour by going the extra mile. India must not engage with Pakistan now and talks should be postponed indefinitely till such time conditions demanded by India are satisfied by Pakistan.
First, there is a need to analyse the statement given by the Chief of the Army Staff General Dalbir Singh in the aftermath of the operations. As reported in the TOI, the army chief is quoted to have said that “every time Pakistan bleeds us by thousands of cuts…we just talk about it for a few days and after that we let it go as usual business.” This clearly indicates that he would certainly have had sanction of the government. However, India is still far off from acquiring operational capabilities like Mossad’s Entebbe raid where an Israeli commando action in another country successfully resulted in the rescue of hostages. But this alone should not give India reason to engage in talks. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was responsible for 26/11 and all pointers of the Pathankot attack are towards Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) (NIA chief Sharad Kumar’s interview to TOI). By all estimates, these attacks have been planned well in advance and there is no connection with Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan. Having clearly established the hand of JeM, which happens be one of the important elements of Pakistan’s Military-Jihadi complex (MJC), there is no room for doubt that the topmost echelons of the Pak army were in the know of this plan. There is a sense of deja vu (a la Kargil) when Nawaz Sharif pleads that his government is neither aware nor involved. There is certainly no need to buy this argument.
Second, let there be clarity on which stakeholders are to be involved from Pakistan. The MJC finally seems to have given its blessings to the Nawaz Sharif government to go ahead with the talks. The inclusion of Kashmir issue from the Indian side apparently has given them a reason to do so. In this, we again come to the crux of the matter — which is the Sharif that India needs to talk to? Nawaz or Raheel (Pak army chief)? Or both? It is anybody’s guess the entire agenda of Pakistani position will be guided by the Pak army. This gets us to the classic catch 22 dilemma — damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Can India talk from a position of strength? Let the policymakers remember one thing clearly-never fear to negotiate, but do not negotiate out of fear.
Third, for those who feel that let Pakistan become a failed state and implode towards doom, a sense of schadenfreude is not the best way to solve this puzzle. Our national interest must be focused at achieving 8% GDP growth. It is the fear of widening gap with India that might have finally compelled the MJC to give its green signal for talks. India has the international support. It has a convincing stand that ‘terror and talks’ cannot happen together. Pakistan’s argument of non-state actors just does not hold water. The US has clearly asked Pakistan to take action against the perpetrators of this attack. France & Japan have condemned this attack without naming Pakistan publicly. If the talks have not taken off, it is singularly because of Pakistan. Realpolitik, not morality governs international relations. To conclude, it is certainly not in India’s national interest to give a push to talks at this juncture; it is Pakistan which is on the back foot. India must seize this opportunity to shame Pakistan internationally and isolate it. This is an opportunity to be seized.
Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with the Takshashila Institution. He tweets at @guruaiyar