It is too early to predict if Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s latest initiative towards Pakistan will lead to the resumption of a dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad in the near future. During the course of a public rally in Srinagar, Mr Vajpayee “offered a hand of friendship” to Pakistan, but the hope that this will lead to an early breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations may be premature. While Mr Vajpayee did seem to signal a shift in India’s policy at the rally, there were caveats added during the press conference in Srinagar the next day, which seemed to indicate that little may have changed in reality. The prime minister clarified, during his interaction with newspersons, that his gesture needed to be reciprocated by Pakistan. According to Mr Vajpayee, he was prepared to send a senior official of the ministry of external affairs to Islamabad, to work out the agenda for the talks, once Pakistan stopped infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir and closed down the training camps for terrorists which exist on its soil. This is not very different from the stand taken by the government of India since December 2001, that there were would be no talks with Pakistan until it stopped sponsoring cross-border terrorism in India. The prime minister has promised to expand on his remarks and make a full statement on relations with Pakistan in Parliament later this week. Hopefully, there will be greater clarity added to India’s Pakistan policy in the next few weeks.
What, however, is already clear is that neither international pressure nor India’s coercive diplomacy has made Pakistan give up using violence and terror as essential elements of its policy in Kashmir. It is this failure of India’s Pakistan policy that may result in the large scale infiltration of jihadis into Jammu and Kashmir in the next few months, and thereafter the state may witness heightened violence. Instead of recognizing this failure, senior Central government officials have talked loosely about a pre-emptive strategy against Pakistan and the possibility of waging a limited war. This, quite obviously from past experience, has virtually no effect on Islamabad, but it does make the international community nervous that yet another crisis in south Asia may be about to happen. The prime minister’s latest remarks, if they do signal a real change, may reflect a recognition that the policy of not talking to Pakistan is now of little utility. Indeed, New Delhi’s unwillingness to conduct a dialogue rather than Islamabad’s sponsorship of violence could become the central issue of concern for the international community.