The diplomacy between India and Pakistan stands reduced to a simple question. To talk, or not to talk? There are any number of talks, just to decide whether to talk or not. Perhaps, no other subject has consumed so much debating time of the so called national news channels of Indian television?
The issue is really complicated. Talking with Pakistan can be perceived as a sign of the weakness of an Indian Prime Minister. The entire media could be at your throats, accusing you of selling out nation’s pride and interests. Ask Dr. Manmohan Singh! Trying to talk with Pakistan can also become a sign of strength for a Prime Minister, at least in the eyes of the committed bhakts. When I say Bhakts that include the modified media. Ask Mr. Modi!
Even the supporters of talk, or the ‘Aman ki Asha’ can become heroes or traitors, depending on the climate in Delhi durbars.
The current Prime Minister is well aware of the situation as he was an expert on how to deal with Pakistan, until he became the Prime Minister. Mr. Modi had thrilled his support base by his ‘Pakistan ko uni ke basha mein samjhayein’ (Make Pakistan understand in its own language) type dialogues. How his tweets that highlighted the weakness of his predecessor had induced many a virat dream of a defeated Pakistan, among his bhakts!
That leads to the question why Mr. Modi suddenly became very fond of visits and talks. I am not privy to which language Mr. Modi uses during his interactions with Pakistan, be it talking to its Prime Minister, gifting sarees, or touching the feet of the family members of Nawas Sheriff. Whether it is ‘uni ki basha’ or ‘khud ki bhasha’ I am all for the talks and such niceties between the immediate neighbors. His bhakts who used to object any attempt by his predecessors would surely close their eyes when he is the one making the attempt- be it fuel price increase, GST, or even talk with Pakistan. Let us not even count those jholawallahs who suggest promotion of some of the crony businesses with Pakistan as the real reason for the sudden change! That means, only those who are scared of the possibility of Mr. Modi getting a Nobel Prize for Peace are left, to object to his visit and talks. What if a Nobel Prize for Peace finally manages, perhaps, to clean his image from the stains of 2002?
My apologies for drifting away from the subject of this post. Yes, the question is to talk, or not to talk! The question is not as simple as it might look. It is complicated by many factors. Firstly, whenever you want to talk to Pakistan, you need to live with the fact that Pakistan had not acted on Mumbai terror attack or on harboring India’s most wanted terrorists and underworld dons. Unlike in the past, a Modi cannot even be expected to write ‘love letters’ on these issues, to Pakistan. Secondly, you also know that Pakistan is either not willing, or not capable of acting on the demands related to Mumbai attack or Indian fugitives, for various reasons. Thirdly, you never know who will ultimately call the shots in Pakistan. So long as it was under the Military rule, matters were relatively simple. With the democratic governments in Pakistan, one never knows where the real power is located. Last but not the least, you also know any attempt to talk will coincide with renewed attacks across the border, either in the form of ceasefire violations at the Line of Control or terror attacks inside the Indian territories. All these factors make it much safer for any Prime Minister, just to procrastinate and refuse to answer the question.
All the factors that usually affect the Indo-Pak talks remained the same. Only Mr. Modi’s willingness to take the initiative changed. Modi even dared to do an unscheduled stopover at Lahore in a show of exemplary neighborly relations. Apparently, the newfound friendship among neighbors changed nothing on the ground. Even as Modi was walking at Lahore, holding hands with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Pakistan based terrorists were crossing the border to carry out another attack in India. Everyone, except the incorrigible optimists, had expected some terror or ceasefire violation as a result of the renewed attempt at talks. In fact, if anyone had gone ahead with the attempts to talk, without considering such possibilities then the only conclusion is that they are grossly ill-suited for the job!
Pathankot airbase attack happened. This time it was not on the hapless civilians of an unsuspecting Mumbai, but one of the critical establishments of the armed forces of India that the terrorists chose to attack. The advanced information received (an act of providence or stupidity of terrorists) and the bungling that followed (with some ‘unfortunate’ deaths) are well known. To stick to the subject, as predictable as it can get, the clamor to discontinue the proposed talks with Pakistan became shrill.
There are indications that the proposed talks at the level of Foreign Secretaries might be affected by the Pathankot attack. Even the official statements from the Indian side gives such an impression. This situation is despite the fact that everyone knew all along that the terrorists and their handlers would try to stall the talks by carrying out more terror attacks. So, where does that leave our question, to talk or not to talk?
To my mind, there are only two ways to go ahead with any talks with Pakistan. The first is to ensure that no cross-border terror attempt succeeds in India, but that would require a much better response than what we saw in Pathankot. The second way is to continue with the talks, irrespective of any terror attack. Not sure how palatable that will be, politically, but refusing to discontinue the talks will remove the motivation for carrying out more terror attacks. If the terror attacks are carried out to stall the peace talks, then the logic suggests that we do not oblige the terrorists by discontinuing the talks!
Will Mr. Modi continue talking to Pakistan, despite Pathankot? Will he wait for the terrorists in Pakistan to stop targeting India, before initiating any further talks? Will he ensure measures to prevent any repeat of Pathankot type attacks in future, despite any or no progress in the talks with Pakistan? Will someone from the Indian Government let the nation know what is in its (or more importantly, in his) mind?
P.S.: I have deliberately ignored the question, whether we can stop the cross-border terror by merely agreeing not to talk any more!