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Beyond binaries

To talk to Pakistan or not is not the question but how to use dialogue to sustain pressure on its army

Written by The Indian Express |
June 18, 2009 1:36:11 am

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to resume contact with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of a multilateral gathering in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg and ask the foreign secretary to start talking to senior officials in Islamabad was widely expected. Discerning observers would ignore New Delhi’s attempts at differentiating between “meeting” Pakistani leaders and “talking” to them. Those familiar with the tragedy of Indo-Pak relations would not read too much into the genteel Dr Singh acting tough in public with the crafty Zardari. While the PM’s political compulsions to posture at home are real,the case for a new Pakistan policy had been staring at him for some time. India’s suspension of bilateral talks did have some diplomatic impact after the unpardonable terror attack against Mumbai last November. Seven months later,not talking to Pakistan is not in any way raising the heat on Islamabad to act urgently against the plotters of anti-India terror.

Will the renewal of the dialogue,formal or informal,produce a positive change in Pakistan’s approach to violent extremism against India? Not necessarily. And certainly not in the short term. Zardari might be the president of Pakistan; he was neither responsible for the Mumbai attacks nor does he have the power to offer redress to India. Pakistan’s real power centre,the army,has turned hostile towards the peace process with India. By launching a new campaign against the Taliban in Swat and preparing for another in Waziristan,the Pakistan army is winning powerful friends in Washington and gaining empathy around the world. Put simply,the Pakistan army,the main supporter of anti-India terror groups,has emerged a winner at home and abroad since Mumbai.

Where does that leave India? For one,India must look beyond the simplistic binary approach to Pakistan — talks or no talks. Instead,New Delhi must develop a long-term strategy that aims to alter Pakistan’s internal dynamics in India’s favour. Extending strong support to Pakistan’s weak civilian leaders is one important part of that strategy. New Delhi must also script a strong play in Washington to prevent the Pakistan army from leveraging its current campaign against the Taliban to protect its extremist assets against India. To mount and sustain real pressure on the Pakistan army,India must look and sound reasonable,articulate a positive vision for the subcontinent,and underline the imperative for a collective regional and international struggle against terrorism. That exactly is what Dr Singh has done in Yekaterinburg. Translating this ambitious strategy into effective action is the real challenge confronting India; it is not whether or when we should talk to Pakistan.

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