The ambush and killing of five Indian soldiers on the Line of Control has produced exactly the reaction that the perpetrators must have wanted — an overheated political and media pushback in India against moves by the two countries to restart their stalled dialogue. Over the last month, New Delhi and the new government in Islamabad were quietly setting the stage for the resumption of talks that had been derailed by the beheading of an Indian jawan at the LoC in January. Emissaries shuttled between the two capitals, and both sides were said to be on the verge of restarting the process. A meeting between Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York had also all but been finalised. But it has been clear since the Mumbai attacks that whenever the two countries take even the most tentative steps forward, there are elements out to ensure such attempts make no progress. This time, the efforts at sabotage appear to have begun with the recent attempted bombing of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, except that it was foiled and instead ended up killing hapless Afghan civilians, including children. Rather than seeing through this game, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which made bold moves for peace with Pakistan while in power, has chosen to be predictable. The Congress’s craven surrender on earlier occasions, when it hit the “pause” button on talks out of sheer political panic, has only encouraged such grandstanding.
The uproar against talking to Pakistan and on Defence Minister A.K Antony’s alleged “escape route” to the Pakistan Army misses the point that despite the bluster of a “befitting response”, there is no alternative to dialogue. Whether it was Pakistani soldiers or terrorists in military uniforms who killed the Indian soldiers is not germane. This is not the first time the truce along the LoC has been violated in the past 10 years of its existence. It is only by engagement that the two sides can protect this ceasefire, the value of which cannot be overstated. And, it is only through engagement that Islamabad can be held to its 2004 commitment not to permit terrorists to operate from territory under its control, and be pushed to act against those responsible for violence against India. Prime Minister Sharif has given every indication that he is sincere in his wish for friendship with India but equations between him and the Pakistan Army are yet unsettled. Which way the civilian-military balance tilts will depend in large measure on how Prime Minister Singh reacts to Mr. Sharif’s overtures. If India fails to grasp the civilian hand this time, that balance will only end up tilting in a way that will further harm its interests.