The July 15 talks in Islamabad between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan ended badly for many reasons. India has been putting itself at a disadvantage diplomatically by showing too much eagerness to restart the dialogue with Pakistan. This has encouraged Pakistan to raise higher its negotiating demands despite being the offending party. It has pressed for a composite dialogue straightaway rather than accept India’s step-by-step approach dictated primarily by our prime minister’s compulsion to carry with him political and public opinion upset at the concessions made at Sharm-el-Sheikh. The readiness expressed there to delink terrorism from dialogue notwithstanding Mumbai damaged our negotiating position on terrorism beyond retrieval. By our readiness to take on board Pakistan’s new concerns about Baluchistan, we compounded our negotiating difficulties further, because this openness implicitly conveyed our willingness to address Pakistan’s older concerns. In this background, Pakistan would have viewed our tougher post-Sharm-el-Sheikh projection of terrorism as a priority issue as tactical posturing and not a fundamental position.
This would explain the petulance of its foreign secretary at New Delhi in treating our terrorism concerns with the usual Pakistani dismissiveness (we are ourselves victims of terrorism and so on), characterizing as “literature” the evidence presented by us on the Mumbai carnage, and demanding the revival of the composite dialogue with an accompanying road map. The haughty attitude that Pakistan was not begging India for a dialogue and could wait for its resumption reflected Pakistan’s confidence that it had the upper hand. Pakistan refused to invite the Indian foreign secretary to make a return visit for further discussions, calling such an exercise futile until India clarified its position on Pakistan’s road map which, inter alia, envisaged upgrading the dialogue to a political level.
An over-eager India again yielded to Pakistani pressure tactics and at Thimphu, with no tangible signs of any credible Pakistani action on the fundamental issue of terrorism, we agreed to resume the dialogue, with foreign secretary and home minister-level talks in June and foreign minister-level talks in July. The ‘composite dialogue’ issue was skirted by stating that nomenclatures were not important. Pakistan got the political-level dialogue that it wanted as a gauge of India’s “seriousness” — a code word for Pakistan indicating India’s moving away from the terrorism issue to the issues of Kashmir, Siachen, water, and so on — in resuming talks. Our stance — that while for us the priority issue was terrorism but that we were ready to discuss any issue Pakistan put on the table — exposed us to Pakistan’s relentless demand that we discuss issues of concern to it, even as it paid habitual lip service to our terrorism concerns.
Before the June talks, we spoke of lowering our sights with regard to outcomes, with focus on what would be ‘doable’. One can surmise that Pakistan took these statements as political spin directed essentially at our domestic public opinion, as, in its eyes, the Indian government would not show such anxiety to re-engage it if it did not have in mind the intention to make progress in negotiations. For Pakistan, such progress had to be on issues like Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, water and the like. It had already made clear that on the terrorism issue it had made as much progress as it reasonably could. More would depend on its judicial process as well as investigative leads and prosecutable evidence that India provided.
The Indian home minister, P. Chidambaram, armed with David Headley’s confession, generated pressure on Pakistan on the terrorism issue. But Pakistan is not only inured to such pressure even from a much more powerful state like the United States of America on its Afghanistan perfidy, but has also been astute enough to play on the US’s fears and extract military and economic assistance from it as ‘pay-off’. Pakistan calculated that it could wait for the external affairs minister’s visit to see what political ‘pay-off’ he would bring in his diplomatic knapsack.
The “fiasco” at Islamabad occurred because the mandate carried by the Indian minister belied Pakistani expectations. In the meantime, with the situation deteriorating in Jammu and Kashmir to India’s discomfiture, the Pakistani leadership must have decided to play even more hardball than earlier intended. With India on the defensive in Jammu and Kashmir again, for Pakistan to act against the Punjab-based jihadi groups and the United Jihad Council in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, whose agenda is cross-border terrorism, would have been, in any case, unimaginable.
When ambushed with the calculated Pakistani demand for timelines to register progress on issues of concern to it, India rightly refused. It may be too simplistic to see General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s hand in the intemperate reaction of the Pakistani foreign minister to the Indian delegation’s resistance to this untenable and arrogant Pakistani demand. Kayani could not have tutored the pretentious S.M. Qureshi to humiliate our external affairs minister by decrying his inadequate mandate and his constant calls to New Delhi that belied his status as a policymaker. He lectured India on the need for a result-oriented dialogue and made it known that he would not make a “leisure trip” to India in December unless India was “mentally prepared” for a serious dialogue.
The Pakistani prime minister also cavilled at India’s resistance to the holding of a “meaningful dialogue”, as if India’s call for addressing the Mumbai issue and that of Pakistan-promoted terrorism had lost “meaning”. Headley’s confession implicating the Inter-Services Intelligence in the Mumbai attack apart, the effrontery of Pakistan’s political leadership becomes even more striking after all that has since appeared in WikiLeaks, confirming accusations regarding the ISI targeting the Indian embassy and Indian personnel in Afghanistan. It may suit the strong protagonists of a dialogue with Pakistan to give cover to the Pakistani civilian political leadership by blaming the Pakistani armed forces for the collapse of the Islamabad talks. But this entraps us within our existing ineffectual policies towards Pakistan. We should remember that it is the political forces, not any military instrument, that created Pakistan, and those political currents remain potent.
The greater cause for regret is that we do not seem to learn from our mistaken policies towards Pakistan. No rationale is given to justify the persistent efforts to engage an unresponsive Pakistan except some platitudes about peace and neighbourliness. We reprimand our home secretary publicly for spoiling the atmosphere of the Islamabad talks by speaking out of turn about Pakistan’s official connivance in the Mumbai carnage when, with more grit, Britain’s prime minister can, on Indian soil, disregarding Pakistani reactions, accuse the latter of a two-faced policy towards terrorism and involvement in terror against India and Afghanistan.
To justify continued talks with Pakistan we claim that progress was made in Islamabad. If there was progress why the Pakistani recriminations? We publicly plead with Qureshi to accept our invitation to visit India in December, and so accept the burden of ensuring that he does not make a “leisure trip”. He has already announced that it will be impossible to resume a dialogue with India without requisite attention to the Kashmir issue. So, what are the concessions we have in mind for him?