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Forget the peace process with Pakistan!

July 23, 2010 12:07 IST
India can't be wasting its precious diplomatic capital on a project that despite its repeated attempts just refuses to gain traction, argues Harsh V Pant.

India insisted that Pakistan should underline concrete actions that it would take against the perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan merely promised to investigate the matter, suggesting that the judicial process can't be dated.

Pakistan asked India to discuss Kashmir, India agreed to hold talks on the issue 'at an appropriate time.' India asked for a roadmap for future engagements, Pakistan insisted on the inclusion of controversial issues like Kashmir before any roadmap can be agreed upon.

Pakistan raised the issue of human rights violations in Kashmir. India declared it an internal matter with its own institutional network to take care of human rights violations.

Pakistan raised India's role in Balochistan. India rejected it categorically, underlining the lack of any evidence.

India talked of a 40 per cent increase in infiltration across the Line of Control. Pakistan suggested that its security apparatus was not behind it and it might be because of individuals crossing over.

This is what the great India-Pakistan bon homie came down to after all the hype and hoopla. In fact, the high point of the meeting was Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi virtually equating the hate speeches of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Mohammed Saeed with the Indian home secretary's remarks blaming the ISI for 'controlling and coordinating' the Mumbai terror attacks 'from the beginning till the end.'

It is difficult to see what the two nations achieved at the end of this long and tortuous process other than more vitriol from the Pakistani side. How does this restore confidence and bridge the trust deficit the two sides have been aiming for? Pakistan has been quick to lay the blame for the deadlock on India's doorstep.

While India's liberal intelligentsia continue to talk about the need to bolster trade and cultural ties with Pakistan, the latter has made its priorities clear by underscoring the need to address 'core' issues like Kashmir and security.

Even before the Indian foreign minister had left Pakistani soil, his counterpart was busy excoriating India for its 'last minute hitch' and lack of preparation. At least there was a sense at the beginning of this tortured process that both sides were committed to talks. At the end, even the atmospherics could not be maintained.

Pakistan's approach has been so confrontational that even the limited appetite for talks in India will end up disappearing, forcing the Indian government to disengage from talks altogether.

It is the biggest strategic failure of our diplomacy that even after more than six decades, India has not found a way to neutralise the malevolence of a neighbour one-eighth its size. Business as usual has never been an option for India, and yet our Pakistan policy could never move beyond cultural exchanges and cross-border trade.

Pakistan has continued to train its guns at India and drain India's diplomatic capital and military strength and India has continued to debate whether Pakistani musicians should be allowed to enter India.

This disconnect between Pakistan's clear strategic priority and India's magnificently short-sighted approach will continue to exact its toll on India unless India makes it a priority to think outside the box on Pakistan.

Today, India finds itself desperately seeking international attention for its troubles vis-a-vis Pakistan as well as Pakistan's own problems, and when it doesn't get that attention or is rebuffed the government behaves like a spoilt child, throwing a tantrum and going on the defensive.

Though the government's spin doctors would have us believe that the prime minister is thinking in grand strategic terms of trying to reach out to Pakistan, the reality is that the Indian government had realised that it had no other option but to talk to Pakistan.

India's strategic space has dramatically shrunk over the last few years. By failing to craft its own narrative on Af-Pak ever since the United States troops went into Afghanistan in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, New Delhi has allowed the West, and increasingly Pakistan, to dictate the contours of Indian policy towards the region.

As a result, India continues to rely on the US to secure its interests in Af-Pak under the assumption that there is a fundamental convergence between India and the Obama administration in viewing Pakistan as the source of Afghanistan's insecurity.

The government believes, therefore, that it would be best served by coordinating its counter-terror strategy with the American one and as such it needs to reach out to Islamabad.

So even though there was no public appetite for talks with Pakistan when none of Indian demands after Mumbai attacks had been addressed, India ended up engaging Pakistan to deflect international pressure.

For Pakistan's military-security complex, this is its moment. Its proxies are winning in Afghanistan. Pakistan's security establishment is relishing the double game it is playing in Afghanistan.

Pakistani support for the Taliban in Afghanistan continues to be sanctioned at the highest levels of Pakistan's government, with the Inter Services Intelligence even represented on the Quetta Shura -- the Taliban's war council -- so as to retain influence over the Taliban's leadership. Taliban fighters continue to be trained in Pakistani camps.

The ISI does not merely provide financial, military and logistical support to the insurgency. It retains strong strategic and operational control over the Taliban campaign in Afghanistan.

Despite launching offensives against militants in North and South Waziristan, the Pakistani military continues to look upon the Taliban as a strategic asset. Pakistan's security establishment is manipulating the Taliban's political hierarchy so as to have greater leverage over future peace talks.

The balance of power in Pakistan's polity has completely shifted in favour of the military whose very reason to exist is negation of the idea of India.

Under the circumstances, what real incentives does Pakistan have to enter into a serious dialogue with India?

It should be no surprise then that the Indo-Pakistan talks ended the way they did. Indian policy-makers should disabuse themselves of the notion that talks would somehow result in an agreed framework allowing the two States to exist side-by-side peacefully.

It is time to abandon the project of the India-Pakistan peace process at least till such time there is a credible interlocutor in Pakistan.

India can't be wasting its precious diplomatic capital on a project that despite its repeated attempts just refuses to gain traction. It has other foreign policy priorities that need urgent attention.

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By criticising Pillai, Krishna has played into Qureshi's hands
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War of words: Why India, Pakistan lost out

Harsh V Pant