The country’s leading strategic analysts have urged India to go ahead with talks with Pakistan and not allow Saturday’s Pune blast to weaken its resolve. They see the blast as part of the continuing pattern to thwart India and Pakistan from fostering closer ties ever since trouble erupted in Afghanistan in 2001.
Noted strategic affairs analyst K. Subrahmanyam pointed out that certain elements averse to the pressure being put on militants on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have attempted to vitiate the atmosphere between India and Pakistan. The December 2001 Parliament House attack and the November 2008 Mumbai attacks were both aimed at derailing bilateral dialogue. The Pune blast is part of the same sequence and India should not be dissuaded from the coming meeting of Foreign Secretaries here on February 25.
The former Foreign Secretary, Salman Haider, also made the same point: “This deliberatively disruptive act [Pune] occurred when India and Pakistan were showing signs of communicating with each other. They always try and take a disruptive approach.”
Another former Foreign Secretary, Muchkund Dubey, also voiced his views against Pune impacting the talks and felt the initiative to restart the dialogue should have been taken long ago. “I don’t think we should necessarily go by calculations of what will be achieved if the talks are held. A smaller neighbour feels ignored when there are no talks and this is a very important psychological aspect to keep in mind,” he said.
Kanwal Sibal, who also headed the Foreign department, was not sure if this month’s talks would produce results, especially because the Opposition now had fresh ammunition to oppose the initiative. Though the government had to counter several dilemmas of its own, it should go ahead with the dialogue. Not doing so would amount to playing into the hands of forces against normalisation of bilateral ties.
Mr. Subrahmanyam wanted India to keep its cool even if there were more provocations. This would frustrate the Pakistan Army’s design to thwart talks and maintain the tension between the two sides. If trust and confidence were built up between the two sides, the Pakistan Army would be forced to act against militant organisations on the Af-Pak border, most of which were its own creation. In case of talks and normalisation of ties, its excuse of maintaining forces on the border with India because of tensions would not wash with the U.S.
Note of caution
Mr. Sibal also sounded a note of caution against accepting Pakistan’s demand for restarting the composite dialogue (CD) because that would dilute India’s bid to focus on terror. In the CD, the Foreign Secretary-level talks dealt only with Kashmir and peace and security whereas terrorism was dealt by the Home Ministry. “Accepting CD would undermine our whole strategy that focusses on terrorism,” he pointed out.
Mr. Haider said the talks were overdue and while the Prime Minister was ready at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt, he had to draw back because the public was not ready. “I don’t believe talking to Pakistan is easing up the pressure. Not talking is a diminishing asset. We can show our anger but there is a time when we can enter into discussions. By drawing away from talks we exclude the possibility of any kind of step forward by bilateral means,” he said.
Mr. Dubey questioned the lack of absence of communication between neighbours as close as India and Pakistan and pointed out that it was necessary to allay Islamabad’s suspicions by entering into dialogue.
“We understand that public opinion influences policymaking but the doors for the talks should be kept open. Even under the worst provocation we should keep the dialogue going.”
Giving an example of how dialogue opens doors, he recalled that the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had avoided going to Bangladesh because he apprehended that Dhaka would raise the issue of a settlement on the Farakka barrage. But the next government, which was intrinsically unstable, entered into talks and reached an agreement.