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Talking to Pakistan

Damned if you do, damned if you don't!

Business Standard  |  New Delhi 

The Pune terror attack was only to be expected once the government announced its decision to resume official-level talks with Pakistan. That the Islamic jehadi and extremist elements in South Asia, as a whole, are opposed to any reconciliation between India and Pakistan is by now well established. The attempts on the life of former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto were part of the same agenda that has brought terror to the doorstep of so many in India and Pakistan. This is not to absolve elements within the Pakistan establishment who may be equally opposed to a normalisation of the bilateral relationship based on a practical and pragmatic resolution of longstanding differences and disputes between India and Pakistan. Indeed, it is entirely possible that some of the very critics in Pakistan of India’s unwillingness to resume the official-level dialogue may be behind the terror attacks since their agenda would be to keep India permanently off balance, damning India for not talking and damning it if it tries to. This should be obvious to any strategist and to any intelligent political leadership. What this means is that India needs a sophisticated strategy to deal with Pakistan, engaging it at various levels and keeping one step ahead of extremist and jehadi elements.

India must also come to terms with the fact that apart from elements across the border, there may now be a sizeable number of Islamic extremists within India who are planning and executing terrorist attacks. Equally, there would be a substantial body of public within Pakistan that is increasingly angry with the extremist elements there and worried about the Talibanisation of Pakistan. All this calls for a multi-pronged strategy to deal with Pakistan. This newspaper has repeatedly called for greater business-to-business and people-to-people engagement even as the government and its security agencies remain ever vigilant and act promptly in dealing with terror attacks and cross-border terrorism. As we have said in a recent editorial comment, quoting Winston Churchill, jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

For this reason, we welcome the government’s decision not to call off the official-level talks in response to the Pune terror attack. Indeed, these talks should be used to once again bring home to Pakistan’s official and political leadership the utmost importance of Pakistan adhering to its commitment to prevent its territory from being used by anti-India elements. Pakistan must understand that India has enormous reserves of patience, but patience should not be mistaken for weakness. It paid the price for misreading India on more than one occasion. It would be ignoring India’s concerns at its own peril. Governments in both countries have a responsibility to shape domestic public in a direction that would offer both governments some domestic political space for diplomatic manoeuvre. This requires greater public articulation of the thinking of the political leadership on both sides. When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf were engaged in a dialogue, there was more of such organised articulation of official thinking than is in evidence today. If public turns hostile to the idea of greater engagement between the neighbours, encouraged by an opposition waiting for an opportunity to revive its own political fortunes, no one can be blamed for this but the government itself.

First Published: Tue, February 16 2010. 00:52 IST