Across the Aisle: To talk or not to talk

While war is not the answer, hard or coercive diplomacy with Pakistan could be.

Written by P Chidambaram | Updated: January 17, 2016 6:34 am
 PM Narendra Modi, PM Modi, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Indo Pak talk, Foreign Secretary-level talks, Indo-Pak relation, pathankot attack, terror attack, lahore declaration, india pakistan realtion, Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, india news, express opinion, sunday express PM Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif

Barely three weeks ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unannounced visit to Lahore and agreed with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the two countries will carry forward the agreement on Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue reached between the two countries. It was hailed as a brave move. Brave or not, it was an unusual, though impulsive, move and helped create an illusion of an atmosphere that would be conducive for talks. January 15 was set as the date for talks between the Foreign Secretaries.

Within seven days, the terrorists struck at a key frontline facility in India, the Pathankot Air Force base. In February 1999, Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Lahore and signed with Prime Minister Sharif the Lahore Declaration. Within three months of that visit, in May, the Kargil war began.

Structures within the state

Whoever planned it and whoever executed it, neither the Kargil war nor the Pathankot attack could have been conceived AFTER the visit of the Indian prime minister to Lahore. The Indian State is a single entity. There is a structure, there is a command and control and, barring minor aberrations, the State acts and can be commanded to act as a single entity. Pakistan is not. There are at least three structures within Pakistan that exercise ‘State’ power. There is the federal government of Pakistan, there is the Army, and there is the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). No one has control over all the three power structures. The Army and the ISI can — and often do — act independently.

At least these three structures are State entities deriving their authority and legitimacy from the written laws of the country. There are others who are, seemingly, beyond the pale of the law. We have coined a quaint phrase to describe them — non-state actors. The most virulent are the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM). They exist in the open, own assets, recruit men and women, threaten jihad against India, proudly claim responsibility for terror attacks, and are seemingly immune from the laws of Pakistan.

This is the reality that India must take into account. A prime minister of India, enjoying full authority and responsibility as the true representative of India, cannot assume that the prime minister of Pakistan enjoys full authority and responsibility as the true representative of Pakistan. Prime Ministers of India, from Lal Bahadur Shastri to Indira Gandhi and Mr A B Vajpayee to Dr Manmohan Singh, have learned that truth to their bitter disappointment. Prime Minister Modi learned it in the months of December and January.

Coming to talks. ‘Should India talk to Pakistan?’ is the easy question. The answer is ‘yes, of course’. The real and difficult questions are who should India talk to, and on what, and when? Answers to these questions cannot be found during an impulsive drop-in at a pre-nuptial ceremony. Nor at a brief pull-aside conversation during a multilateral event. Mr Modi tried to do that, and the ignominious outcome was the terror attack on the Pathankot Air Force base.

Mumbai is not closed yet

The Mumbai terror attacks (26 to 29 November, 2008) were the worst terror attacks on Indian soil. It was conclusively proved that the ten terrorists were Pakistanis; they were trained, armed and despatched from Pakistan; their controllers were located in Pakistan; and the entire operation was guided from Pakistan.

As in every case, including the Kargil war, Pakistan denied that the terrorists were Pakistanis. World opinion forced Pakistan to conduct a perfunctory investigation, make some inconsequential arrests, and start a desultory and mock trial. Eight years later, not one person has been found guilty or punished.

Not counting the numerous intrusions and incidents along the LoC and the International Border, Pathankot is the first major terror attack after Mumbai where the source has been traced to Pakistan. Unusual for Pakistan, it has claimed to have started an investigation. The chances are it may go the same way as the so-called investigation into the Mumbai attack. Then what? In fact, it is a shame that no one in the government seems to remember that the earlier investigation and trial have reached a dead-end and have been comprehensively buried.

Talks on what, when?

There is no alternative to talks with Pakistan. So, by all means, let’s talk to Pakistan, but we should first talk on matters that are of immediate and grave concern to us — not respecting the LoC and the International Border, terrorism, intrusions, covert support to Indian jihadis etc. We can also talk on issues that will promote the economic interests of India such as trade, tourism and visits of academics and scholars. But, in my view, we must draw a red line: No talks for the present on Kashmir or Siachen or Sir Creek. Nothing will be lost if India maintains the status quo on those issues for some more time.

Pakistan is not a rogue state but it harbours and covertly supports rogue elements. While war is not the answer, hard or coercive diplomacy could be. India has been forced to defer the Foreign Secretary-level talks to an undetermined date. The time between now and that date must be used to re-examine all aspects of the talks — when, where and on what subjects. These are matters where we must assert our right to exercise our choice.

Website: pchidambaram.in @Pchidambaram_IN

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  1. K
    K SHESHU
    Jan 17, 2016 at 6:22 am
    stan must sort out the political diversity within its fold to see that the bilateral talks are fruitful. The army and the extremists elements must be controlled by democratically elected government of the country. Only then the problems of constant attacks in both countries might subside to a large extent.
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      Rajeshwar, A.P.
      Jan 17, 2016 at 6:05 am
      What is stahn? Whaat is not sthan? No matter who rules sthan, they are bound by their religious book. It is the intrepratations given to that book that leads to cnflict within and overseas. Let sthan be bold and declare what it is and what it wants. That wwill solve all the problems.
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        Gopal Arora
        Jan 17, 2016 at 8:13 pm
        If you know that so well, then why did you not talk to appropriate authority in Pak. With this aren't you trying to cover up Mumbai in the shadow of Pathankot.
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          Arun
          Jan 17, 2016 at 4:04 pm
          Modi will follow the advise of Mohan Bhagwat and RSS will never accept the advise of Chithambaram. Net result : Chithambaram has wasted his knowledge.
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            TSBindra
            Jan 17, 2016 at 12:41 pm
            Here are the facts! Mr. Modi, what is the solution? 01162015_DailyandCNDID=22287295andspMailingID=8440373andspUserID=MTIxNTcyNzYzMDk5S0andspJobID=841719867andspReportId=ODQxNzE5ODY3S0
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              Karunakaran
              Jan 17, 2016 at 2:38 am
              But the photoshopped Gujjubhai can't speak. He is as speechless as a statue. So the question of talking to stan does not arise.
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                G M
                Jan 17, 2016 at 6:04 pm
                Mr. P. Chidambran, it is no secret that stan is playing shock and awe game with India unmindful of loss and gain in the process as there are not many gain in friendship and no significant loss for stan in animosity ever since stan going nucleardia was already a nuclear power way back in 1974 by doing Pokhran test by Mrs. Indira hi led government just after defeating stan and creation of Bangladesh. That is why Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee triggered neuclear testing in 1998 of Pokhran 2 is always BLAMED for providing stan opportunity to get status of legible nuclear state by doing Chaigai Hill nuclear test .Now stan is having hundreds of atom bombs. Courtesy-ATAL BEHARI BAJPAYEE. Otherwise stan was about to sign nuclear non proliferation treaty and was almost agreed to become non -nuclear country for ever. Now stan being a terrorist especialist state is nuclear state and stan's atom bombs is more deterrent to India than India's to stan despise flurry of terrorist attacks on India since then.
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                1. H
                  Hindu
                  Jan 17, 2016 at 4:15 am
                  CHIDAMBARAM KKKKCUF YOU DRATSAAAB !!! You and other UPA members from 2004-14 have DEKKKKKCUF INDIA.....
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                    Ajay
                    Jan 17, 2016 at 2:07 am
                    Blaming impulse of the PM for Pathankot attack is not fair. Any peace overture and progress would have been contested by elements who have benefited from the existing state of affairs between the two countries. A gamble some times pays off. It seems to be working in certain direction this time. What comes out of it will be a function of the pressure the govt is able to put on mainly through diplomatic channels. We must continue to talk, some time in the language which various actors in Pak will understand best. We need to augment our overall capabilities . Can't blame any one if own people aid and provide support to terrorists .
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                      Tellitasitis
                      Jan 17, 2016 at 5:20 am
                      How come PC forgets that Dr Manmohan's well intentioned gestures toward good relations with stan were rebuffed, and yet PC harps on Vajpayee and Modi's failures!
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                      1. J
                        Jawahar RMP
                        Jan 17, 2016 at 1:42 am
                        Great article. Impulsive actions equal but OPPOSITE reactions. In your hands the nation, the future and the fate of careers of youth will be safe. Hope this nation will wake up on time.
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                        1. S
                          Sumit Goyal
                          Jan 16, 2016 at 11:26 pm
                          Arguably, the most capable person to lead the country. Successful in every role he has had in the govt. The his should have the courage to project him as their PM candidate instead of RaGa.
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                            malaiappan
                            Jan 17, 2016 at 12:46 am
                            Great article by Pana Cheena. Modi government should not rush into things as far as stan is concerned. It should make it clear to Indians and to the world their stan strategy. Obviously something is happening behind the scenes and that made Modi make an impulsive trip to stan (which in my opinion, he should have avoided, considering the past behavior of stan). It is also clear that there is no use talking to the civilian Government in stan as they do not seem to know or have to control over the military establishments such as the Army and the ISI. It is the army and the ISI that call the shots in stan as far as India is concerned. It is high time that the Indian government thinks of retaliatory strikes against stan; otherwise, we would be considered a soft state (if not already) and we will have to live with more terror strikes in future.
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                              anil
                              Jan 17, 2016 at 5:43 am
                              Very correctly and precisely stated formulation, which only PC, among politicians, is capable of.
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                                bhalchandrapangam
                                Jan 17, 2016 at 4:35 am
                                India must develop strategy to deal with this new type of war. We must have commandod who can go and neutaluse these non state actors. No need to claim that we have neutralise them . Once this starts happening there will be fear in minds of terrorist.
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                                  rkannan
                                  Jan 18, 2016 at 5:08 am
                                  PC has offered no solutions - it is more an article stating the situation rather than what can be done. However, there are two issues even with his statements : 1. The word "non state actors" started with Musharaff and his Kargill attack. Subsequent events have shown that, in all cases, terrorist have been found to be trained and funded by the stani state. Even in the case of 26/11, PC made a lot of noise about how India had provided evidence to stan but the stanis refused to present the evidence in a court of law in stan. This allowed Hafeez Sayeed and lakhvi to walk away free. This could not have happened without the support of all 3 wings of the stani state. 2. The conclusion that stan is not a rouge state is not borne out by facts. There may be sane elements and some peace lovers in stan but the control of the country rests with elements who are controlled by terrorists. The Pak army and ISI may pretend that they control the terrorists but facts show that the Pak state is unable to take any real action against terrorists. They my drop some bombs and kill some civilians, with a few terrorists caught in the cross fire, but the bulk of the terror network remains in control of stan.
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                                    rohitchandavarker
                                    Jan 17, 2016 at 6:13 am
                                    The one aspect that is always presumed and is seriously flawed is to expect stan to act rationally and trustfully. Any intention of rapprochement with stan has to factor in this hard reality. Hence, talks for talks sake would be welcome as demonstrable outcomes are never to be expected. In the meantime, India has to put in place counter measures to check infiltration, something that has been found wanting despite several attacks. Increasing the human element in guarding our borders is the easy way out but costly, prone to errors and often leads to loss of precious lives. Taking a cue from Israeli fortification of its borders, India must use technology to secure our borders. Elbit Systems Israel has been credited with the near fool proof border surveillance, so much so that the US invited Elbit to replicate its technology along the Mexican border. Robust and dominating patrolling along the border is also a deterrent. India must stop playing victim and create conditions whereby the onus of rapprochement is firmly placed in stan's court. having achieved these objectives, India can safely ignore its troublesome neighbour and get moving on its other major challenges. Far too much time, effort, money and blood has been expended on this insignificant errant neighbour so far. We have to, undoubtedly, be cautious and vigilant. At the same time, India needs to raise the costs on stan and make them experience the pain and hurt that we have been made to suffer for decades, without losing Indian ets or blood. There are multiple levers of stani vulnerabilities that can be effectively exploited. Finally, we must desist from expecting international support of any kind. It hardly behoves a country that aspires an enhanced global role to be dependent on international support.
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                                      Sajeev Kumar
                                      Jan 17, 2016 at 5:17 am
                                      PC what's point in talking now ? during 10 years of UPA regime you talked only for the benefit of corrupt but did not do anything and now you have to wait at least another 18 years.
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                                        Ramesh Salgotra
                                        Jan 17, 2016 at 2:43 am
                                        Chidambram without power is talking sense for the first time.He is an intelligent person on the wrong side of politics.
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                                          ARUN
                                          Jan 17, 2016 at 9:28 am
                                          Mr Chidambaram has given a long sagacious lecture but has not explained who in stan India should talk with.
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                                            S Gandhi
                                            Jan 17, 2016 at 9:12 am
                                            True on the capability - but he carries extra baggage and an atude that does not go well with the top post.
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