Our response to the killing of five Indian soldiers last week by the Pakistanis inside our Line of Control has again shown our inability to deal effectively with the dual issue of dialoguing with Pakistan and scotching the terrorist threat from it.
The issues are closely inter-linked as using the arm of terrorism against a neighbour is not how a normal state conducts itself. To believe that such a state can be persuaded through political talks to give up a lever that it uses to further its strategic goals is not realistic. It will change its conduct either if the cost of use becomes too high or if it achieves its objectives.
Pakistan will, therefore, not cease supporting terrorism unless we impose costs on it or offer it concessions. If we conclude that we cannot force Pakistan to stop terrorist activity against us and that we have no choice but to talk to it, hoping that it will control the jihadi groups in the country’s own longer-term interest, then we play into Pakistan’s hands, leaving it to decide how and when it will deal with the issue based on its internal and external calculus.
The composite dialogue is therefore a political trap for us, as Pakistan views it as a platform to constantly press us for concessions without needing to make any of its own, particularly as we appear unduly anxious politically to keep the dialogue going.
Our appeals to Pakistan to cease support to terrorism for the dialogue process to succeed lack logic. Pakistan actually believes that because we cannot handle terrorist pressure externally as well as internally because of our divided polity, we cling to the dialogue option and seek accommodation with it.
We are in confusion when we say that we can make progress in settling our differences only in an atmosphere free from violence. Are we implying that we are holding up progress in some areas because Pakistan is not suppressing terrorism as we want?
What “progress” will we offer on Kashmir to satisfy Pakistan? Will we withdraw from Siachen if Pakistan controls jihad against us? Will we accept the Pakistani position on Sir Creek? Will we accept its case on the Wullar Barrage and our hydroelectric projects on the western rivers allowed by the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)? What progress can we offer on nuclear matters?
In reality, if no progress is being made on our differences it is because Pakistan is fixated on obtaining concessions from India rather than making any of its own. On Siachen, they want us to basically accept that we are occupying territory that is rightfully theirs and vacate it. Apart from lack of strategic equivalence in the scope of the withdrawals, the reality is that even what Pakistan is currently holding is strictly illegal because we consider the whole of the erstwhile state as legally ours. Pakistan should in the first instance end its cartographic aggression by showing the cease-fire line correctly as ending at NJ9842 and not extended to the Karakoram Pass. Pakistan should also be required to remove the presence of China as an intruding third party in POK, consistent with its claim that J&K is “disputed” territory.
On Sir Creek, Pakistan should accept the median line as the border in accordance with international law rather than insisting on a one-sided solution. On water related issues, it should cease to further vitiate the atmosphere by accusing India of diverting water in violation of the IWT which is in fact is exceptionally generous to it. In the nuclear field, apart from increasing its holdings at a break-neck pace, it is introducing tactical nuclear weapons in the sub-continent and dangerously lowering the threshold of their use.
On trade, Pakistan has yet not moved to grant India MFN status stalled since December last year, even though it is obliged to grant it under international trading rules. If it does so eventually, it will be because of its economic woes rather than as a goodwill political gesture. On our side, were Pakistan to cease violent activity against us, an area in which we could contribute to “progress” would be people to people contacts.
It is time that we released ourselves from the diplomatic straitjacket of the composite dialogue. On all the agenda items, barring terrorism, Pakistan seeks concessions from India. We are exposing ourselves to blame for being rigid if no progress is made, with some of our own commentators joining Pakistanis in faulting us for not culling the so-called low hanging fruit such as Siachen and Sir Creek. On terrorism and trial of those responsible for the Mumbai attacks, our demands have become ritualistic through fruitless repetition and Pakistan ignores them. Worse, we have allowed
Pakistan to put us on the defensive on the issue by tagging the Samjhauta Express incident to the issue of terrorism.
We had a confused response to the recent border incident because of concern that holding the Pakistan army directly responsible would have jeopardized the resumption of the composite dialogue and the meeting of our Prime Minister with his Pakistani counterpart in New York next month. We have lost our margin of manoeuvre by investing too heavily in the policy of holding a broad-based dialogue with Pakistan despite its truck with terrorism. The Pakistani premier is pressing for the composite dialogue as it serves Pakistan’s interests well, the onus of making progress having been heaped on India’s shoulders. We should reverse the burden and ask Pakistan to deliver concretely on terrorism before we resume a process that has produced virtually nothing for years.
Prime Minister Sharif should put his money where his mouth is to inspire confidence.