The BJP has responded to the Pune bomb blast with the demand that the foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan for the 25th this month be cancelled. This was the logical, reasonable and expected response. But was it the wisest response? The BJP asked: what has changed for New Delhi to agree resumption of dialogue while terror continues? Good question. The answer provides the reason why the dialogue should resume, why India should be blunt rather than diplomatic, and why this should be the final call for any settlement.
The bomb blast took place just before the talks were to resume, just after the US launched its current military surge in Afghanistan, and just before US Senator John Kerry was to reach Delhi before going to Islamabad. Pakistani terrorist leaders openly stated that they opposed the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan. That should explain the timing of the bomb blast. It was engineered to scuttle the talks. But would scuttle of talks please Pakistan’s civilian government which could have drawn political mileage from its constituents through these talks? One doubts that. However it would most certainly please the hardcore pro-jihadi elements ensconced in the Pakistan government and army. The following conclusions may be drawn therefore about the current situation in Pakistan from the events as they have unfolded.
- First, there are elements in the Pakistani government that are genuinely opposed to terrorism and would like a settlement with India that favors Pakistan. At the same time there are more powerful elements in the Pakistani establishment that are opposed to any peace settlement with India. The Pakistan establishment therefore is a divided house.
- Secondly, the elements seeking normalization with India are incapable of delivering on any promises they might make. It is irrelevant if such failure is perceived to stem from inability or duplicity or a mixture of both. The moot point is that Islamabad as constituted at present cannot deliver.
- Thirdly, it cannot escape notice that there is only one global power that has displayed a vested interest in keeping India and Pakistan apart. And whether by design or by default the pro-jihadi fundamentalist elements in Pakistan serve the interests of this power. It is no secret that Pakistan’s nuclear and missile strength which makes its army such a potent force is derived from China. China is badly misguided in pursuing its policy of isolating India in South Asia. But it would realize its error only when ground realities are actually changed in the subcontinent. To make such change possible should be India’s top priority.
To assess whether such change is feasible, holding talks with Islamabad is desirable provided it is clearly understood it will be the final attempt. And since it ought to be the final attempt India should bluntly seek an open commitment from Islamabad about the goal that is to be reached. Would Islamabad be willing to commit to an eventual India-Pakistan relationship encompassing joint defence and trade? Kashmir, water and other contentious issues could be resolved to mutual satisfaction much more easily in the light of such a relationship. Within Pakistan such an announcement would bring polarization into the open. All those irrevocably opposed to India would come out of the closet to fight the Pakistan government. That would make things much easier for Islamabad to weed out the rot. If Islamabad is agreeable to an open commitment, then talks may continue.
If Islamabad is unwilling and continues to serve wittingly or unwittingly foreign interests rather than its own, then it is time to bid Pakistan goodbye. There are other options that India can pursue to protect its national interest.