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India-Pakistan talks: A counter-productive option

February 10, 2010 14:16 IST

Talks with Pakistan at this stage will have several negative implications for India, writes Satish Chandra

The Indian government's recent decision to seek talks with Pakistan, contrary to its own commitment to the nation that it will engage in this exercise only if the latter provides satisfaction in bringing to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack, is a counter-productive option with the following negative implications:

  • It reflects the lack of resolution on the part of the government on staying the course in respect of considered commitments and, thereby, lends credence to the view that India is a soft state which can be pushed around. The international community, and particularly our neighbours, cannot but take note of this and factor it in their dealings with us.
  • It will encourage Pakistan to conduct their relations with us in a business as usual mode as they have been able to successfully defy us in not curbing their involvement in terrorist activities directed against us. Indeed, we may see a further escalation in such activity as Pakistan will feel that it can undertake any anti Indian action with impunity.
  • Engagement in a dialogue with Pakistan will take the edge of our endeavour to project it as a terrorist state and thereby ease such international pressure that it hitherto faced on this account.
  • It will underline our susceptibility to act under US pressure as it is, with some justification, being perceived that we have taken this step on US prompting. This cannot but have negative consequences for India's standing in the international comity of nations.
  • It will provide a platform for Pakistan to raise unfounded claims about our involvement in terrorism against it.

Leaving aside, however, the downside of the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan as cited above, one needs to be clear as to where it is supposed to lead us and to what purpose.

Specifically, given the Pakistan establishment's inimical mindset vis a vis India as evidenced by Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani's recent admission that the Pakistani Army was an India-centric institution, its continued efforts to export terror to India, and its permitting Lashkar-eTayiba founder Hafiz Saeed to threaten India with jihad it is clear that a India-Pakistan dialogue will be an exercise in futility in terms of resolving the problems between the two countries unless, of course, India is prepared to make all the concessions on issues like Siachen, Sir Creek, Indus waters or Kashmir.

Assuming that such concessions are not to be made the only purpose that the talks will serve is to make a show of pandering to the US demands that India should make an earnest bid to make up with Pakistan -- a price being exacted by the latter for promising to deliver in Afghanistan.

The advocates of resuming talks with Pakistan often argue that India has no other viable options. This reflects an unfortunate bankruptcy in thinking. The fact that India has never in a concerted fashion sought to penalise Pakistan for using terror as an instrument of foreign policy against it does not mean that it cannot do so. A policy designed to dissuade and penalise Pakistan from the use of terror against India could contain the following elements:

  • A ruthless exploitation of the faultlines in Pakistan, particularly in Sindh, Baluchistan and the Northern Areas.
  • Covert action and, if required, precision strikes to take out Pakistan-based terrorist elements and their supporters including in the ISI. Contingency plans for such actions should be developed urgently, so that in the event of another Mumbai type attack, these can be undertaken within hours.
  • India should exercise its rights fully over the Indus waters, as legally permitted under the Indus treaty, so that the flow of these¬†waters to Pakistan is minimised. Notice should be served on Pakistan for the renegotiation of the treaty under which India gets only 20 percent of the water while having 40 percent of the catchment area.
  • No talks with Pakistan until such time as it dismantles the infrastructure of terror.
  • A vigorous international campaign to project Pakistan as a terrorist state seeking imposition of sanctions against it including suspension of military and economic assistance. (This will, for the present, not have much success as the US and the West need Pakistan's support in Afghanistan. Firm persistence on this issue will, however, over time cut some ice.)
  • Countries providing military assistance to Pakistan should be black listed for purposes of weapon purchases.
  • A long-term and concerted exercise should be undertaken in the US to replace its policy of mollycoddling Pakistan. The Indian community should be mobilised for this purpose. Additional pressure should be brought to bear through the multi-billion dollar arms and industrial contracts in the works.
  • Relationships with countries like Iran and Russia must be repaired. This would require India to be perceived to be capable of acting independently and its ability to resist US pressure.

The aforesaid robust foreign policy approach must be accompanied by the following measures internally:

  • Since more terror strikes from Pakistan are inevitable the internal security system must be beefed up. Regrettably, the far reaching security reforms initiated under the NDA government in May 2001 based upon the best indigenous professional advice have been languishing under the UPA governments. It is imperative that these reforms, suitably upgraded, are implemented post haste.
  • India's strategic deterrent must be given the attention it deserves. It should be made evident that any nuclear attack on India would invite devastating retaliation. For this purpose the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff is an urgent requirement.
  • Particular attention should be paid to the mainstreaming of the Muslim community. A content Muslim community would be the best vaccination against Pakistan's efforts to export terror to India.
  • Alienation in Kashmir should be more effectively addressed directly by us. Talks with Pakistan are not necessary for this purpose.¬† Demands for increased autonomy can be met, where necessary within the framework of the Constitution as in any other Indian state.

To conclude, since India's default policy of extending the hand of friendship to Pakistan has had disastrous consequences is it not time to discard it in favour of one which penalises Pakistan for inflicting terrorism on our innocent nationals?

Satish Chandra is former deputy national security advisor and at present distinguished fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation.

Satish Chandra