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Why India still doesn’t have a Pakistan policy
Despite 70 years of unremitting and implacable hostility, New Delhi still does not know how to deal with Islamabad.
Like any addict who gets drawn back to snorting, smoking or injecting toxic stuff, India too suffers withdrawal symptoms if it remains disengaged from Pakistan for long. Sometimes this disengagement is just a couple of months, other times a couple of years, but never permanent because like any incorrigible addict, India doesn’t have either the staying power or even the will to get rid of this addiction.
It is difficult to believe that despite 70 years of unremitting and implacable hostility from Pakistan, there are still politicians and bureaucrats in India who are utterly clueless about Pakistan’s intentions and its deviousness.
But just as every addict knows that re-imbibing the toxic stuff is not good for him, Indian politicians and bureaucrats are aware that Pakistan is a neighbour from hell and yet get sucked into the vortex of a desultory and debilitating dialogue process, again and again.
A fundamental problem dogging India’s Pakistan policy is that it has no such policy. What India has is a seasonal approach: season changes, what goes for policy also changes. No one should, therefore, be surprised if the current dispensation might be once again preparing to yield to the temptation of dialoguing the Pakistanis.
The way the choreography normally works is as follows: a few Indian journalists travel across the border on a conducted tour; while in Pakistan they are given access to some senior Pakistani officials who speaking with a forked tongue call for peace and dialogue (even as they keep supporting and spawning jihadists across the border); their remarks will be blown out of proportion, and either deliberately or out of sheer ignorance, these remarks will be reciprocated by the Indian side; soon the ball will be set rolling and an announcement will be made of some visit or another, which will then be used to announce a resumption of talks or at least a high-level meeting after which some roadmap will be unveiled; some sort of talks will commence; then there will be the inevitable terror attack; at that point, either India continues the talks or goes back into a sulk; and then repeat the entire sequence after a few months.
Straws in the wind suggest that India might once again be inching towards re-engaging Pakistan. Replying to a question on a recent statement by the Pakistan army chief wanting talks with India, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman declared: “Any comment on wanting peace will definitely be taken seriously.”
That such trite remarks are routinely made by top Pakistani officials and mean nothing seemed to have escaped the defence minister.
Then there are the recent comments by the Indian high commissioner in Islamabad who has told visiting Indian journalists about “small steps forward, particularly on the humanitarian side, to build an atmosphere of trust between the countries.” Once again, this is something that has happened so many times in the past without it leading to anything except for yet another round of talks which meander and then disappear like a desert stream.
Of course, the problem with diplomats, especially the ones dealing with Pakistan, is that they don’t feel they are doing their job unless they engage the enemy. They forget that diplomacy isn’t only about dialoguing but also not dialoguing.
Finally, we have an old spymaster who has come up with a hare-brained suggestion of calling the Pakistan army chief to India, give him a red-carpet welcome and “see what happens.”
The ridiculousness of the idea can be gauged by the fact that he draws inspiration from a possible meeting between the US president and the North Korean dictator. Well, that meeting may still not happen. But even if it does, only the most delusional person can think that it will solve the problems between North Korea and the US and its allies.
Again, no surprises over such a vacuous suggestion from the former spymaster. Way back in 2001, after the Ramzan ceasefire collapsed, the then NDA government was at a loss on what to do next. Some bright spark suddenly came up with the suggestion to invite Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf.
The Agra summit followed and turned out to be a disaster simply because serious issues of inter-state diplomacy cannot and should not be trivialised and dealt with in a cavalier manner without adequate planning and preparation and in complete disregard of the ground realities and situation. And guess what? The spymaster was part of the ruling dispensation back in 2001!
It isn’t just these three examples that hint at some kind of thaw with Pakistan. Increasingly the new buzzwords that are being thrown about are “grand bargain”, “grand reconciliation”, and of course “out of the box” and “we need to think big.” None of the geniuses assaulting the common sense of ordinary Indians by dropping these nice sounding words care to explain what they mean by these stock phrases.
What, for instance, are the contours of the "grand bargain" they are talking about? Does "thinking big" include abandoning Kashmir to the forces of jihadism? What will the "grand reconciliation" involve? These phrases sound sexy and make the people uttering them look intelligent, even visionary. But these are nothing but empty words uttered by utterly vacuous people.
Indians are a unique specimen in the world that even when the other side screams and shouts that they are our enemy, we continue to insist we are the same people, even long-lost brothers, and we are ready to extend our hand in friendship!
Instead of basing policy on the stated intentions and actions of the adversary, we prefer to be beguiled by their lies and deception. We assume that the fringe group of Pakistani liberals represents the thinking of the people and establishment of Pakistan, even though there is no empirical basis to reach this conclusion.
Since we keep going round and round in circles, we keep making the same mistakes with Pakistan. We might now be getting ready to repeat the same old script again.
This commentary originally appeared in DailyO.
29 May 2018