In choosing to find a way to resume the dialogue process with Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been bold as well as pragmatic. Bold because it is the job of a leader who says he believes in engagement with a difficult neighbour to actually lead from the front and not be swayed by populist sentiment. And pragmatic because even if there is no guarantee that dialogue will open a way forward, the absence of dialogue is no option at all. Unfortunately, some political parties and analysts in India have tended to equate dialogue with surrender. For the past decade, the Indian strategic community has seen the suspension of dialogue with Pakistan as a lever to pressure it to address India's concerns about terrorism. For hardliners across the border the absence of dialogue is a godsend because it ensures that the two neighbours remain on the precipice, ready to fall over each time there is a terrorist provocation. Powerful elements within the Pakistani military establishment have a stake in the persistence of tension and are not enthusiastic about engagement with India. On the other hand, the peace constituency within Pakistan has been growing. Obviously, the best Indian strategy is one that seeks to enlarge that constituency. This seems to be the crux of what the Prime Minister is attempting to do.
Under the process agreed upon in Thimphu, the two Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Ministers will meet to take stock of the bilateral relations with a view to mutually comprehending the reasons for the current stalemate. Simply put, each side feels its core concerns are not being taken seriously by the other. If Pakistan can address Indian concerns about the activities of terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the rise in infiltration, it is likely to find New Delhi more than willing to discuss how disputes like Kashmir or Siachen can be resolved. If all goes well, the two countries can resume the kind of serious, result-oriented dialogue the subcontinent badly needs if it is to integrate and progress economically. But if Islamabad continues to take an opportunistic attitude towards the anti-India terrorist groups that operate on Pakistani soil, there is little chance that a dialogue will produce results. It is vital to concentrate on rebuilding trust, taking advantage of congenial political conditions in both countries. Punishment of the conspirators involved in the Mumbai 2008 terrorist attacks would be a major confidence-enhancing measure. But in the interim, long-pending humanitarian issues need to be addressed quickly, especially the repatriation of prisoners and those who inadvertently cross the land or sea borders.