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It would be an error to talk to Pakistan again

By Satish Chandra
July 19, 2010 12:31 IST
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The major lesson we should draw from the foreign minister-level talks is that Pakistan is not serious about addressing our concerns on terrorism.

This should have been clear to us long ago because we have been talking to Pakistan on terrorism ever since 1997, says Satish Chandra, the former deputy national security advisor and distinguished fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation.

The recently held India-Pakistan foreign minister level talks designed to bridge the trust deficit between the two countries have only served to accentuate it.

They also provided the unedifying spectacle of the unseemly public exchanges between a boorish S M Qureshi and a wimpish S M Krishna, in which neither side came up smelling of roses, and which fortified the perception that while Pakistan has no intention of acting against terror, India is a pushover.

A careful analysis of these talks provides many takeaways.

It is evident that the talks had been well prepared through the foreign secretary-level talks and a framework for the graduated resumption of the dialogue process had been agreed upon, with terrorism being front-loaded and Kashmir being placed lower in the pecking order.

Indeed, as is the norm for such meetings, it is not unreasonable to assume that even a draft joint statement had been prepared detailing the manner in which the dialogue process would be resumed and what issues would be taken up.

This had, ab initio, been accepted by the Pakistan side as otherwise they would not have entertained our foreign minister's visit. By the time, however, the joint press conference was held on July 15, the Pakistan side had had second thoughts on the matter and was unwilling to accept such front-loading. They wanted to ensure that terrorism was addressed only as one of the several issues and was not the primary focus.

The hardening of the Pakistani position resulting in tensions between the two sides is evident from the absence of any joint statement, postponement by several hours of the joint press conference, absence of any major agreed outcome other than the decision that the foreign ministers would meet again in New Delhi, and, of course, the absence of any chemistry between the two ministers, whose public interaction was coloured by Qureshi's hectoring approach.

What brought about this sudden hardening in Pakistan's position?

Several factors were probably at play. It has been argued, regrettably even by some in India, that the Indian home secretary's statement regarding the Inter Services Intelligence's involvement in the Mumbai attacks triggered the unravelling of the talks. This is incorrect, as in the immediate aftermath of the statement, the bilateral discussions passed off smoothly and the point made by the secretary had been made earlier, most notably by the home minister.

In any case, it would be preposterous for anyone to argue that India should refrain from pointing out harsh realities on issues of core concern to it merely to provide comfort to Pakistan.

The more likely reason for Pakistan's volte face stems from the fact that its army does not want the establishment of trust between the two countries, as its dominance over governance in that country is dependent upon an inimical relationship with India. More specifically, being unwilling to eschew the use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy against India, it realised that front-loading terrorism in the dialogue process went against its basic interests.

It, therefore, made Qureshi insist that equal importance be accorded to issues like Kashmir, Siachen, water-sharing etc, as to terrorism, which ran counter to the earlier understanding between the two sides.

Indeed, Qureshi, at the joint press conference, argued that all issues 'have to be dealt in tandem' precisely in order to underline that progress on terrorism could only be expected if there was progress on Kashmir.

The hardening of the Pakistani position may be attributed partially to its being much more confident today in weathering US pressure for dialoguing with us and giving us some satisfaction on terrorism, given the current US need for its support in Afghanistan, and partially to the heightened tensions in Jammu and Kashmir which it feels have enhanced our vulnerability.

It is, therefore, making a pitch for resumption of the composite dialogue process. Should this occur. it will reduce the focus on terrorism and enable Pakistan to further agitate issues like J&K and water to our detriment. Should we resist Pakistan's demands, it will argue that India is unwilling to talk.

On its part nothing less than the composite dialogue will be acceptable to it for, as Qureshi said in a separate press conference on June 16, Pakistan is in no hurry for a resumption of talks.

The major substantive lesson that we should draw from these foreign minister-level talks is that Pakistan is not serious about addressing our concerns on terrorism. The format of the dialogue they seek is designed to reduce the focus on terrorism and to facilitate delay in taking any meaningful action in this regard.

This should have been clear to us long ago, because we have been talking to Pakistan on terrorism ever since 1997 in the composite dialogue process to no avail. In these circumstances, it was an error on our part to resume talking to Pakistan after 26/11, and it would be an error for us to do so again.

The tactical lesson that we need to learn from these talks is that obnoxious and intemperate statements verging upon the impolite are a stock in trade of Pakistani officials and leaders, particularly when they feel that their Indian counterparts are likely to crumble.

Such statements have been made even by as polished a man as Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, they were made by Pervez Musharraf at Agra, they were made by the current foreign secretary during his visit to India in February and they have now been made by Qureshi. Such statements need to be promptly, firmly and politely rebutted.

Regrettably, our foreign minister's performance at the joint press conference was sub-standard. He allowed his Pakistani counterpart to monopolise the proceedings, failed to rebut the latter's equating our home secretary's statement with that of Mohammad Saeed, failed to point out that Pakistan had no locus standi in raking up the human rights situation in J&K, and only set the record right on Baluchistan after being prompted by officials in our delegation.

Such pusillanimity only encourages the Pakistani belief that India is a pushover, much as our refusal over the decades to penalise Pakistan for its involvement in terrorism against us has emboldened it to continue this practice.

Our weak-kneed approach vis a vis Pakistan over the last few years has been exemplified by the prime minister's statement in September 2006 equating it with India as a 'victim' of terror, our agreeing to set up a joint anti-terror mechanism with it, our agreeing to talk to it after having initially stated that we would not do so unless the perpetrators of 26/11 were brought to book, and our agreeing at Sharm el Sheikh to insulate the dialogue process from terrorism.

Such a posture both encourages Pakistan to continue in its use of terror against us and impinges adversely on our efforts to mobilise international pressure against it on our behalf to shut down the infrastructure of terror.


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Satish Chandra