India vs Pakistan: To talk or not to talk?

Manisha Singh

The mood of the nation after the beheading and mutilation of two Indian soldiers at the Line of Control was such that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to break his silence and say that after the “barbaric act there can be no business as usual with Pakistan’. It must have been a personal setback for the PM who has believed in the process of dialogue and peace with Pakistan, something he doggedly pursued, even though it was always going to be fraught with risk.

Pakistan’s use of terrorism as a state policy is something which is accepted globally and the fact was and is that the country which is fighting its own battles is not going to change overnight.

Manmohan Singh had overcome the faux pas over the Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement in 2009 which had created a storm over the delinking of composite dialogue process from terrorism and the mention of Baluchistan in the joint statement.

But four years down the line not much has changed with the Opposition demanding that it was time to debunk the joint statement announced at the Egyptian resort town with the then Pakistani PM Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani.

The government was forced to change its tack after it faced criticism for not taking a tough stand after the heinous killings at Mendhar and after the flag meeting with Pakistan Army virtually failed with India’s counterpart refusing to have to do anything with the escalation of tension at the border. Remember, initially, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, though condemning the killings had said that the peace process must not be derailed.

On the other hand, Army Chief Bikram Singh has been on an aggressive mode and had warned Pakistan, without mincing words, that India after the decapitation of Indian soldiers ‘reserved the right to respond at a time and place of its choosing’.

However, the fact is that we cannot change our neighbours and Pakistan with all its failings will remain geographically where it is. But, while we cannot do anything about where we are placed on the world map, we can certainly do something about how we deal with those who are hell-bent on being the troublemaker. The moot point is that while India may have hardened its stand, as of now, and may have taken certain steps like the sending back of Pakistani Hockey players and Pakistani artists and putting on hold the visa-on-arrival for senior citizens and suspending talks at all levels, we have to sooner or later resume all the above bilateral relations and engage with our neighbour if peace is to prevail in South Asia.

For starters, as is oft repeated, India has to shed the tag of being a ‘soft state’ and tell Pakistan in no uncertain terms that India will call the shots and that Pakistan has no alternative than to toe our line. Cutting off cultural, sporting and trade ties will surely hurt our neighbour. Also taking the matter up more vociferously globally, like India did recently at the UN, will also further damage the image of Pakistan, something that they would not want. Offers to talk and efforts at confidence building measures will have to be at our terms and conditions in the future.

It is not secret that Pakistan is always in a denial mode. And predictably it did not own up the killing of two of our soldiers. It instead chose to accuse India of indulging in ‘war-mongering’. Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, going on an offensive in the US post the LoC tension said – “I thought war-mongering was a thing of yesteryears and we had put it behind us.” Statements like these are on the on hand predictable and on the other amusing, to say the least. When will Pakistan move beyond mere rhetoric and accept the fact that it is they who have an agenda vis-à-vis India and not the other way around?

And one of the agenda which is on top of the list and which the whole world knows about is the ‘K’ factor. It is an open secret that shelling and exchange of gunfire at the LoC is one of the main tactics used by the Pakistani Army to aid the infiltrators who are always on the lookout for a chance to slip into India. Pakistan desperately needs to revive the waning militancy in Kashmir. Consider this – as per reports there were 120 violations in 2012 by Pakistan, the highest since the 2003 ceasefire. And in 2012, J&K recorded a 45 percent decline in insurgency as compared to 2011.

So if a Pakistani soldier did die in cross firing at the border, as Pakistan claims he did, then it was purely because of retaliatory firing as General Bikram Singh said. “Our soldiers fired in retaliation to shelling by Pakistani troops on the LoC. If a Pakistani soldier was killed, it may have been in retaliatory firing. We have not crossed the LoC.” In circumstances like these India did very well to tell Pakistan that the “dialogue cannot be uninterrupted and uninterruptible” as Ms Khar would like it to be.

The government of India also has to stop being soft on Kashmiri ‘separatists’. To engage in dialogue with them is one thing but to allow them to go across the border and hobnob with the likes of Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin is serious matter, bordering treason. The decision to allow a group of Kashmiris to go to Pakistan and Pok recently defies all logic. It is exactly this kind of ‘soft’ image that India needs to shed and now. It has to tell Pakistan that all dialogues are meaningless until Pakistan stops exporting terror to our country. It also has to tell Pakistan that people like Hafiz Saeed have to be punished for 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan, meanwhile, is fighting its own demons. With its economy in a perilous state, with groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Tehrik-e-Taliban carrying out terror attacks with impunity, with its political leaders facing charges of corruption and with a Canada-based cleric, Tahir-ul Qadri threatening to destabilize the government, Pakistan’s plate of woes is full at the moment. Given the above scenario, Pakistan surely must know that it cannot afford to escalate tensions with India and neither can it afford to go into the war mode. The Pakistan Army is no match when compared to the might of the Indian Army. The loss in 1971 Indo-Pak war and the setbacks in Kargil in 1999 too must be fresh in their minds.

It is indeed a double edged sword and a catch-22 situation. In circumstances like the brutal killing of Indian soldiers, India had no choice but to harden its position and send a tough message to its neighbour. However, the fact is that dialogue will have to resume sometime in the future between the two nuclear power nations. But it has to be with a rider – our neighbour has to behave itself. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in clear terms – “We want friendship with Pakistan but they should also make efforts in this regard. It is not possible only because we want it or because of our efforts.”