With Indo-Pak relations plummeting to an all-time low, anything that can help end the acrimony between these two nuclear powers is most welcome. Perhaps this is why Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan’s repeated offer for re-commencing Indo-Pak dialogue to resolve all contentious issues has revived the clamour for positive reciprocation within political circles as well as a certain section of our intelligentsia. However, as the Indian government continues to maintain that terror and talks cannot go together, chances of the resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue in the foreseeable future seems quite unlikely.
Those who support reopening of Indo-Pak dialogue apparently draw inspiration from the old Chinese adage of how even a thousand mile long journey has to begin with a single step. These people are incurable optimists who aren’t demoralised by the fact that despite both countries engaging in a series of wide-ranging talks and instituting various Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) over a period of more than seven decades, differences between these two neighbours remain unresolved. The pro-dialogue school of thought strongly believes that even if talks haven’t delivered any positive result as yet, they haven’t had any negative effect either; therefore, there’s no reason to stop the harmless dialogue process.
But then there are others who maintain that the Indo-Pak dialogue process is nothing but a means to create a false illusion of peace and harmony with both sides ‘talking just for the sake of talking’. These people maintain that nothing ever comes out from Indo-Pak dialogues because Islamabad consistently refuses to walk its talk and therefore holding talks under these conditions is a waste of time, energy and money.
To support its viewpoint, the anti-dialogue camp cite instances of Islamabad’s treacherous response to New Delhi’s peace gestures, like Pakistan repaying Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Lahore bus initiative to usher peace with the Kargil intrusions in 1999. They also remind us that it was Pakistan based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) that attacked Pathankot air base just a week after Prime Minister Narender Modi’s personal gesture of making an unscheduled stopover in Lahore to personally wish his counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his birthday in an effort to promote Indo-Pak bonhomie.
One can always make light of those who are against Indo-Pak dialogue by dismissing them as ‘hawks’ or even calling them ‘war mongers.’ They can also be accused of doing great dis-service to the nation by promoting animosity and vitiating the environment, which makes any rapprochement well-nigh impossible. But despite this, it cannot be denied that these people are well-grounded in reality and refuse to be carried away by utopian illusions that peace and harmony will miraculously overcome deep-rooted hatred and suspicion created in the minds of people by their politicians on both sides of the Radcliff Line. Even though it may sound negative, but their stand against holding dialogue does make practical sense because what’s the point in siting down, exchanging pleasantries, announcing grandiose CBMs and making pretentious declarations pledging undying commitment to peace that won’t see the light of day?
Those who are in favour of dialogue feel that Imran Khan’s repeated offer for talks is a sign of his genuine desire to normalise Indo-Pak relations and therefore should be accepted by New Delhi. They also contend that since no Prime Minister of Pakistan can take the liberty of extending an olive leaf to India without explicit permission of the military, Khan’s repeated offers for dialogue must certainly be having Rawalpindi’s approval, making it a golden opportunity that New Delhi shouldn’t miss.
Some even say that Pakistan Army could well be goading Khan to talk with New Delhi as it wants to kill two birds with the dialogue ‘offer’. Firstly, it knows that resumption of talks would result in military de-escalation along the Indo-Pak borders giving Pakistan Army (which is at the receiving end of Indian Army’s strong retaliation to Pak Army initiated ceasefire violations along the Line of Control), a much-needed face saver. Secondly, Khan’s unilateral dialogue offer would also project Pakistan as a nation committed to peaceful co-existence with its neighbour and convey the impression to the world that it isn’t the army that’s calling the shots in Pakistan.
However, those who support the viewpoint that terror and talks cannot go together maintain that Islamabad is using the ‘dialogue card’ only to avoid being further isolated by the international community on its selective approach in tackling terrorism. This does make sense as Islamabad is desperately struggling to avoid being placed on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) ‘blacklist’ for inadequate action to check money laundering and terror financing. So, should Modi accept or reject Imran Khan’s offer for talks?
To talk or not to talk with Islamabad-that is the question!
By conveying that he is willing to address all contentious issues including terrorism and Kashmir, it may appear that Imran Khan is being extremely magnanimous and resolute in his efforts to usher peace in the region. But, by avoiding to make any commitment on reining in Pakistan based terrorist groups operating inside Kashmir, he has unwittingly confirmed that Islamabad doesn’t intend acting against terrorist groups enjoying state patronage and safe sanctuaries on its soil. While it appears that most pro-dialogue groups in India have apparently not seen through Khan’s devious plan and are continuing to press for recommencement of talks, Islamabad’s ploy hasn’t escaped Washington’s notice.
Washington has welcomed Khan’s offer for dialogue. But it has also listed certain critical issues that are essential for facilitating meaningful Indo-Pak dialogue as also achieving sustained peace, which buttresses the stand of the Indian government that ‘terror and talks cannot go together’.
Firstly, by saying that “underlying tension (between India and Pakistan) has been (due to) the role of terrorist forces that have sanctuary on Pakistani soil and this needs to be addressed,” the US has specifically apportioned the entire blame for strained Indo-Pak relations on Islamabad’s continuing patronage of terrorists. Secondly, by clarifying that “What the United States is really looking for in Pakistan are arrests and prosecutions and not allowing these (terrorist) groups to operate and move around freely, acquire weapons, cross into India, carry out attacks,” Washington has made it absolutely clear that the bottom line is dismantling terrorist infrastructure by Pakistan.
Thirdly, by stating that “Until these (terrorist) groups are put out of business, it’s going to be very difficult for India and Pakistan to achieve a sustained peace,” Washington has made it clear to Islamabad that as long as terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan isn’t dismantled, its yearning for peace and making offers for dialogue is just a charade. Lastly, by mentioning that “the onus is on Pakistan to ensure that they crack down on these (terrorist) groups,” the US has left nothing to imagination. Therefore, though Khan may wax eloquent on his heartfelt desire to walk the extra mile to normalise Indo-Pak relations and willingness to talk on any issue, New Delhi shouldn’t budge from its principled position that terror and talks can’t go together as this isn’t a precondition but the pre-requisite for any meaningful dialogue!