It was a diplomatic upheaval that registered high on the Richter scale; a volte-face nonpareil; an embarrassing U-turn that collides violently with its own high decibel rhetoric and an abrupt change of heart, indicative of a transcriptional error of its native nationalist DNA. Try as hard as you want to put a positive spin on it, the odium of a flip-flop is hard to escape vis-a-vis Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj’s recent visit to Pakistan that served as a prelude to the resumption of stalled talks between the two inimical neighbours.
After a fleeting flirtation with a stern “no talks” dictum, which was a welcome change from the lackadaisical inertia of the past, we are back to square one, treading once again the beaten path to nowhere replete with the clichéd homilies that “war is not an option” and “talks are the way forward”.
A call to desist from parlaying with Pakistan cannot be interpreted axiomatically as a hostile measure to ratchet up the existing tension between the two nations or a dangerous grandstanding of reckless military jingoism. Strictly speaking, it is the exertion of relentless pressure via diplomatic channels through studied indifference to achieve a positive outcome. It is a long way from actual warfare.
Additionally, it is a reflection of extreme frustration emanating from India’s good faith initiatives; an inevitable impasse reached after years of strenuously pursuing an excessively accommodating approach; and a telling and insightful statement on the warped dynamics of Pakistan’s internal politics that militates irrevocably against harmony with India.
That malicious dynamics, wherein a puppet civilian government acts as a negotiating front for an Indophobic military establishment working through non-state actors, still remains firmly in place, making it highly implausible to accept at face value the rationale for the resumption of the talks.
For Pakistan, talks are nothing more than a camouflage for its nefarious activities. The insistence of a “comprehensive dialogue” is a crafty ploy to wriggle out of a tight situation, escape the opprobrium of a terrorist state and cloud the picture; in essence an effort to distract the focus from terrorism.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent missive to his ministers to refrain from mouthing anti-India diatribes is a welcome development. But this is an insignificant cosmetic touch to a rot that is far too deep-rooted.
To be a credible partner for dialogue, certain changes are vital: one, the civilian government must assert its supremacy over the military establishment; it must set the agenda rather than being a marionette of the military generals. Two, the terrorist elements in its midst must be brought to book, not as a move to appease India, but as a sincere effort of a legitimate government to uphold traditional humanitarian values. To demonstrate good faith, Pakistan must give up its delaying tactics and convict Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attack, promptly. When Pakistan allows a man who carries a $10 million bounty on his head to roam around in plain sight, can we take that country seriously?
Unless these changes occur, talks with Pakistan will be a dicey proposition that could undermine the credibility of the government and blow up in its face. The BJP must tread cautiously.
It must also consider the domestic impact. It is highly inconceivable that the current government would have tempered its stance without being promised tangible results in return. And it is highly unlikely that Prime Minister Modi would have staked his credibility by making a stopover at Lahore (on his way back from Moscow) if the effort was not worthwhile. Nevertheless, the BJP should not forget that this softening of India’s attitude whatever the compelling reasons opens it up to harsh scrutiny.
Vivek Gumaste is a US based academic and political commentator.