Centre unlikely to engage with Pak easily

New Delhi, February 14

Despite Jammu & Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti’s call for talks with Pakistan to break the cycle of violence in the state, the Centre feels engagement may actually release mounting international pressure, led by the US, on Islamabad over its refusal to check terrorism.

Government sources said Mehbooba’s pitch for renewed dialogue with Islamabad comes as no surprise as she has consistently maintained that the Kashmir problem cannot be resolved without involving Pakistan. She may also need to cater to her electoral audience.

While the CM’s political overtones seem clear enough, the Modi government is unlikely to ignore the fact that ceasefire violations by Pakistani forces touched a record high of 771 in 2017 until December 10, the rise in infiltration and a spate of attacks by terrorists pushed in from Pakistan.

“The atmosphere is clearly adverse for any peace effort,” said an officer in the security establishment. The officer said any olive branch could be viewed as a sign of weakness and mark a departure from the tough line of the ruling BJP denouncing Pakistan’s actions. In fact, the Modi government counts the September 2016 cross-border surgical strikes among its top achievements.

“All arms of the government, be it the external affairs, home or defence ministry, have been cornering Pakistan on terrorism and actively condemning the harbouring of terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar. Even global opinion is currently mobilised against Pakistan, with powers like the US threatening to cut aid,” an intelligence official pointed out.

The fact that polls are due in Pakistan in a few months also makes talks impractical at this juncture, according to a source. “There is no point talking to a lame-duck government. Once the new government is voted to power there, we can re-assess things and take a call,” said the official. The Army’s success in organising a judicial coup against ex-PM Nawaz Sharif has delivered a big blow to the government. However, by the time a new government takes over in Pakistan, it will be India slipping into election mode.

Political considerations and the electoral impact of reviving dialogue will have to be factored in by the Modi government. Even though former PM A B Vajpayee had extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan in 2003, a year ahead of the 2004 general election, a similar risk may not be taken in the absence of concrete measures by Pakistan to check its terror allies. Focus may then lie on working with opinion in J&K. There is, beyond the immediate developments, a realisation in the government that the neighbour needs to be engaged at some point.

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