BJP-led NDA govt should directly hold talks with Pak Army

After a reset with China through the recent informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, New Delhi appears to be exchanging feelers regarding a possible resumption of engagement with Islamabad. Although still wary of any official engagement — and rightly so as Pakistan is yet to cease terror attacks — government seems to have agreed to revive Track II diplomacy with Pakistan with a high-powered delegation of former diplomats, military veterans and academics travelling to that country between April 28 and 30.
The Track II initiative called the Neemrana Dialogue is significant in that the foreign ministries of both countries have associated with it in the past. Talks with Pakistan have always been a case of ‘one step forward two steps back’. This is compounded by the fact that the civilian administration in Pakistan is hardly its decision maker on foreign policy. That role is assumed by the Pakistani military and ISI, loosely known as ‘the establishment’.
In fact, if talks are to have any chance of success then India should open direct channels of communication with the Pakistani army. However, that may not be immediately possible under the current circumstances. At a time when the US is cranking up pressure on Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism, Islamabad is getting increasingly isolated. Meanwhile, China may be Pakistan’s all-weather friend but it too will demand its pound of flesh for its support.
Given this scenario, restarting the India-Pakistan Track II diplomacy is akin to dangling a carrot for the entire Pakistani establishment. Either it can abjure terrorism and come for talks, or it can continue on its present path and keep getting diplomatically isolated. Choosing the latter could mean Pakistan becoming a Chinese vassal state in the near future.
Guns boom frequently from across the LoC. And in the latest targeting of Indian interests seven Indian nationals working on a development project have been abducted, allegedly by Taliban which is supported by Pakistan. While all these might seem to be signs of Pakistan’s customary hostility towards India, there are some contradictory signals as well that offer a sliver of hope.
In signs that Pakistani military might be willing to reach out to India, a British thinktank commentary has said that Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Bajwa wants peace and dialogue with New Delhi. The commentary cites a historic first last month when Bajwa had invited the Indian military attaché and his team to the Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad. Meanwhile, a high-powered Indian delegation of former diplomats, military veterans and academics travelled to Pakistan between April 28 and 30 in an effort to revive Track II diplomacy.
There’s no denying that Pakistani military is the real author of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Previous confidence building measures between New Delhi and Islamabad did not achieve much as they failed to take on board Pakistani military.
However, Pakistan’s strategic interests are best served through a policy of peace with India. While Pakistani military may harbour long held psychological insecurities vis-à-vis India – especially since the 1971 war which it saw as a ‘humiliation’ by India – this is getting old. Pakistan is a nuclear power with a strong military, and there is no reason to fear an invasion by India. Moreover, it has a powerful sponsor in China.
By following a policy of asymmetric warfare against India, however, it is hurting itself more than it hurts India. It is growing increasingly isolated internationally; domestic terror incidents abound; investment and growth in its own economy are discouraged. It’s worth remembering that Pakistani military has a lot of corporate interests as well, whose growth prospects are hit.
Having tried everything else, New Delhi could do worse than open direct channels of communication with Rawalpindi. This could help the Pakistani generals feel secure and no longer impelled to destabilise the subcontinent. But Pakistan has to display good faith too. Helping rescue the abducted Indians in Afghanistan would be a good start. From Pakistan’s point of view placing all its eggs in Beijing’s basket carries extraordinary risks – it could soon end up a vassal state.

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