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A year from Uri

There are no black and white solutions. India needs to manage relationship, combine dialogue with deterrence

Written by Sharat Sabharwal | Updated: September 20, 2017 8:23 am
uri attack, one year of uri attack, surgical strikes, uri aftermath, pakistani militants, indian army, kashmir, india news, indian express, indian express news Uri terror attack anniversary: 19 soldiers were killed in the attack (File Photo)

Our troubled relationship with Pakistan has been in free fall since the Uri terror attack a year ago. The 2003 ceasefire has all but collapsed. India lost 82 security personnel to terrorist violence in J&K in 2016 and the number this year has already crossed 50. We have followed an avowedly “muscular” policy in recent years, its essence summed up in six words: “Terror and talks cannot go together”. But what thereafter?

Our national debate on relations with Pakistan centres essentially around the false “dialogue vs no dialogue” binary, which does not address the complexity of the situation or serve our interest.

Pakistan is not a monolith when it comes to India. Their army, its terror proxies and political protégés regard India as an eternal enemy and spike all peace moves. Confrontation with India serves the army’s institutional interest. Therefore, engagement with the “real power centre” in Pakistan, proposed by some, has serious limitations. However, a large body of opinion in Pakistan favours a stable relationship with India. It includes leaders of major political parties, capable of winning power through elections, who realise the utility of a better relationship in undermining the army’s salience, and large sections of business and industry which eye economic opportunities in India. The focus of the people at large, like people everywhere else, is on bread and butter issues.

Therefore, the India relationship was not an issue of even marginal consequence during the elections of 2008 and 2013. Periods of tension, such as the ongoing phase, and jingoistic rhetoric in India, consolidate support for the worldview of the army, seen as the saviour.

Not knowing how to take their dubious Kashmir agenda forward, Pakistan seeks the fig leaf of dialogue on Kashmir to keep the issue alive. When India refuses such dialogue, they go back to their default position of stirring up trouble in the Valley, helped by New Delhi’s failure to win people over there. The Pakistan army has shown no sign of renouncing terror, seen as a low cost option to bleed India.

The eight-track dialogue format used in every phase of structured dialogue since 1997, while offering the face-saver of talks on Kashmir to Pakistan, also addressed India’s need to keep the focus on terror. Improving upon this format would be extremely difficult. Our frustration with dialogue stems from our regarding it as a concession in return for which Pakistan should become a normal state and abnegate terror. This is not going to happen anytime soon because of Pakistan’s internal dynamics. We have to deal with Pakistan as it is and not as we want it to be.

However, dialogue has the potential to promote a lesser, nonetheless important goal from our point of view of managing the relationship so that its violent swings do not distract us from bigger challenges such as economic transformation and an increasingly assertive China, and relative calm and stability prevail along the LoC/international border in the J&K sector. It also facilitates engagement with the segment of opinion in Pakistan that favours a better relationship. In the past, it has helped us in making gains, albeit incrementally, in areas such as trade and people to people contacts that are anathema to Pakistan’s security establishment.

Let’s take a look at some policy options that were intensely debated post-Uri. We have not developed the infrastructure to use fully our own share of water under the Indus Waters Treaty, let alone divert Pakistan’s share as an effective coercive measure. Our priority should be to fully utilise our own share. Bilateral trade is heavily in our favour — Indian exports are of 1.5 to 2 billion dollars per annum and Pak exports of 300-500 million dollars. We surely do not wish to mirror Pakistan’s short-sighted policy of forsaking lucrative trade for political reasons. Think of those whose livelihood depends upon it.

A diplomatic campaign to isolate Pakistan assumes that the international community is unaware of their deep links with terror. All countries know this too well, but act according to their own interests. No other country is going to pull our chestnuts out of fire.

We have to essentially deal with this problem ourselves. The nuclear dimension has constrained use of our conventional military superiority to coerce Pakistan into changing its behaviour. However, our army is capable of giving as good as it gets on the LoC. While using the terror card brazenly, Pakistan’s security establishment forgets that Pakistan too has several faultlines, not confined to Balochistan alone, that can be exploited by others as a deterrent against Pak-sponsored terror.

The above realities do not lend themselves to black and white solutions. Therefore, we need to manage the relationship by combining dialogue with deterrence. Dialogue does not rule out deterrence so long as it is exercised discreetly to send a message to those perpetrating violence and not as a tool of point-scoring and jingoistic media debates. The ongoing political turmoil in Pakistan, which will take time to settle down, rules out a serious attempt to stabilise the relationship for the time being.

In the meanwhile, we should develop a political consensus on a broad policy framework, based on rational and pragmatic approaches, so that the government of the day does not have to look over its shoulder before taking every step and our policy is not held hostage to the most strident voices in our TV studios.

The writer is former High Commissioner to Pakistan. Views are personal

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  1. R
    Ramesh Nittoor
    Sep 21, 2017 at 8:10 am
    Concur with Mr. Sabharwal, a policy change is required. It seems from records that Pakistan trusted Pandit Nehru to be fair to them, after his demise the trust was was not adequately ins utionalized. Unless this trust is regained Pakistan will continue to seek big power equations. India will have to create a "glass wall" such that continued spewing of venom by Pakistan not poison Indian policy making. India would need to respond patiently, non-reciprocally and in a constructive manner, with one critical exception. In response to terror threats and military infringement, India must respond in a calibrated manner to neutralize the threat. Not in the simplistic manner of 1 to 10 or any ratio, but response which is perceived as natural, effective and measured by seasoned military men of Pakistani side. When Pakistan finds Indian diplomacy not seeking to corner Pakistan anywhere, not seeking to pressure via third party, thaw is quite likely.
    1. C
      Sep 21, 2017 at 12:17 am
      How is it be possible for Muslims want peace. It is not possible according to their Quranic verses/Satanic verses. This simple and easy equation of Math should be understood by the Sickulars or Sickular like animals. It is said in Islam that the countries or territory which are ruled by Islamist/Jehadists(Muslims), it is called Dar-Ul-Islam. The countries or territories which are not ruled by Jihadists/Muslims are called Dar-ul Harab and always they(Muslims) think that they are in war like situation with that area before conquiring that region. It is the teachings of Islam. The nonsense sickulars and their associates dont understand this ideology. It is a continuous war with the area ruled by Muslims and the area ruled by Non-Muslims. I think those who are lack in knowledge of Islamic theory, read Quran, Hadiths and other Islamic books. So, peace is only possible thing when Islam will be vanished from the world. Because in full Muslims countries, there is no peace at all.
      1. Seshubabu Kilambi
        Sep 20, 2017 at 9:28 pm
        People of both nations want peace...it is politicians who are engaged in war
        1. D
          Dinesh Sampat
          Sep 20, 2017 at 7:45 pm
          The author provides excellent analysis of the situation and puts forward an argument for dialogs....not sure if that means dialogues at the "higher" levels or at all levels. Given the situation from all angles, the real answer lies in dialogues at the people level, as this conduit needs to be utilized FULLY and on ALL socio, economic, environment, education, science, engineering, cultural and historic fronts. As they say, people from both countries would sit down and eat Veg Biryani rather than Fried Rice and talk about betterment of life for the children on both sides of the border. Additonally, India will have to do a LOT more on many fronts for the border regions and that include Kashmir, Rajasthan, Kutch, as well as areas in the North and Northeast sections.
          1. S
            Suresh Natarajan
            Sep 20, 2017 at 7:33 pm
            Excellent article, with a mature outlook forward. It would be interesting to see a Pakistani view from someone in a similar capacity and temperament.
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