Don’t let terrorists dictate our agenda
The twin terrorist attack at Kathua and Samba in the Jammu region on Thursday, just three days before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is due to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York on Sunday, makes for a horrible start to a dialogue aimed at peace between tense neighbours but it can hardly be said to be unexpected. There has not been a day in the past few weeks when the Line of Control in Kashmir has not been violated by Pakistani troops or their terrorist proxies, and this includes the day when Indian officials gave out that Dr Singh was planning to meet Mr Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session after all. The escalation of hostile action from the Pakistani side began in January this year with the beheading of Indian soldiers patrolling their own side of the Line of Control.
This has not deterred the Indian PM from sticking to the path of peaceful dialogue, although there has been strong opinion in this country, including among the diplomatic and security community, that re-commencement of the dialogue with Pakistan should not take place at the level of the Prime Minister at the current juncture.
It is debatable whether the PM should have agreed to see Mr Sharif when attacks against Indians are taking place nearly every day and the LoC is the hottest place in the country. In these columns this newspaper has argued against peace dialogue being joined at the PM’s level. However, once talks — even if they are to be only symbolic — have been announced, it will be counter-productive to back out, as the BJP suggests. Pulling out at this stage will detract from our prestige. But we should go into the talks with our eyes open and not expect too much from the resumption of dialogue at the highest level.
The Pakistani military is clearly not on board even if that country’s elected civilian leadership means well. It is evident that powerful interests in Pakistan want the dialogue stalled, as many Indian political leaders have argued. Hence the terrorists strike at delicate moments. But it is hard to reverse the terrorist trend even if the dialogue is maintained.
This indeed has been the classical dilemma of Indian policymakers in dealing with Pakistan. In general, those who really count in Pakistan don’t want an atmosphere of peace and mutual trust to be developed, for it suits them not to let this happen even if ordinary people think differently. Non-interruptible dialogue with this neighbour is feasible only at the sub-summit level. This is a postulate that must be fleshed out instead of purveying all that blather about going all out to find negotiated peace.