Why India must find an effective counter strategy to tackle Pakistan

The question now is whether, in view of our neighnour's defiant actions, the NSA-level dialogue should proceed.

 |  4-minute read |   11-08-2015
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When countries with relations marred by hostility and distrust agree to talk, they must make an effort to create a conducive atmosphere beforehand, as otherwise talks will not only fail but the mistrust will deepen. In retrospect, each time that India and Pakistan have decided to talk, the Pakistanis have staged a terrorist incident on our soil to underscore the point that for Pakistan dialogue and terror are part of a composite strategy that it will not abandon, and that India must reconcile itself to this.

The recent attacks in Gurdaspur and Jammu before the proposed meeting of the NSAs of the two countries later this month represent a continuation of this strategy to which India has not yet found a counter. Pakistan exposes our weakness by doing this, which we cover up by high-sounding statements about the necessity and virtues of a dialogue.


A meeting between Modi and Nawaz Sharif at Ufa would not have caused surprise, but the decision to renew high level contacts with Pakistan despite its ceasefire violations, Nawaz Sharif's aggressive posturing on the Kashmir issue and his adviser Sartaj Aziz's bluster about exposing India internationally for its terrorist activities in Pakistan, including its involvement in the Peshawar school terrorist attack, was not expected. We seemed to be yielding once again to Pakistan's well-honed strategy of generating pressure on us to be "reasonable" while maintaining space for itself to be wilfully provocative.

If the Ufa decision caused some unease amongst Modi supporters in our strategic community, Nawaz Sharif was targeted in Pakistan for not insisting on Kashmir being mentioned specifically in the joint press release issued, including from regular participants in Track 2 dialogues with India, which reveals the depth of hostility towards us even among the so-called moderates. Actually, a more sophisticated reading of the release would show that Pakistan had nothing to complain about. Actually, critics in India could say that we conceded major political ground by resuming high level engagement with Pakistan despite continuing terrorist activities against us, for which it denies all responsibility and even insinuates the involvement of our agencies in concocting incidents. They could also say that the Modi government, like the UPA, was delinking dialogue from terrorism too. The Pakistanis could well view this as the "taming" of Modi, in that the tough new Indian PM has had no choice but to eventually bend to the realities of the terrorist conundrum posed by Pakistan. Pakistan also believes that India, despite a more robust government in Delhi, has yielded to international pressure as the "no-dialogue" position is unsustainable because of international expectations.

Pakistan could also argue that India has been made to agree that ensuring peace is the "collective responsibility" of both countries, and that it is not Pakistan alone that is disturbing the peace. In reality though, it is Pakistan that constantly disturbs the peace by acts of terrorism, the space provided to anti-India jihadi groups on its soil and tirades against India in the UN and in the country.


India has agreed that peace is conditional upon willingness to discuss all "outstanding issues", which is understood by both sides as signifying Kashmir, even though it is Pakistan that consistently calls Kashmir an "outstanding" issue and India never does. The formulation on "terrorism" is also weighted in favour of Pakistan, as it equates Pakistan as the source of terror with India that is the victim.

The Ufa statement says that "both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms". In Pakistan's case this is an entirely hypocritical statement , whereas in our case, as Pakistan's victim, our condemnation is genuine. The phrase "all its forms" is really no gain for us, as for Pakistan this means India's "state terrorism" in Kashmir, just as the Arabs mean this formulation to refer to Israel's state terrorism. That both sides agreed to "cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia" is another formulation that serves Pakistan by strengthening its anti-terrorism credentials and placing it on the right side of the debate.


It is obvious that we cannot have a joint text with Pakistan that is manifestly in our favour. If we were to parse too finely the meaning and implications of what we are obliged to agree to have one, we will end up without a text to release. In Pakistan's case, one solution is to issue a very matter-of-fact text, tightly focused on specific points of agreement and one that omits all high-sounding, feel-good, overdone, generalised statements, unless, as in the case of the Islamabad joint statement of January 2004, Pakistan is willing to accept a clear position on its responsibility for ending terrorism emanating from its soil.

The question now is whether, in view of Pakistan's defiant actions, the NSA-level dialogue should proceed. We have a whole history of unproductive dialogues with Pakistan. Should a more resolute government as that of Modi get into the rut of sterile dialogues with Pakistan? On balance no, as we only expose our own weakness in doing this. We demonstrate time and again that we lack the levers to modulate Pakistan's conduct. Pakistan enters the dialogue with the arm of terrorism and territorial claims, whereas we enter with no dissuasive counters. We should first develop those and then agree to a dialogue should Pakistan seek it.


Kanwal Sibal Kanwal Sibal

Former Foreign Secretary

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