In the January fog, the beheading of Indian soldiers was written off as an aberration in the decade-long ceasefire on the line of control that had survived other such odds. It required the doubling of infiltration attempts, more killings of Indian soldiers and reckless fidayeen attacks, such as the ones seen lately in Jammu, to finally convince India that there was a method in the madness emanating from across the border. This is targeted at undoing everything that diplomacy has achieved for the two neighbours in a decade and returning Kashmir to the inferno of the 1990s. Nothing but a shock understanding of this designed disaster and the magnitude of the loss awaiting India could have prompted Manmohan Singh to firm up his resolve to meet his Pakistan counterpart during the United Nations general assembly meet. Mr Singh had given in to the public sentiment that followed the beheading in January by decreeing that it could not be “business as usual” with Pakistan. In August too, after more killings on the LoC, his administration had allowed the Opposition to dictate the terms of peace-making. By stating his intention to meet the Pakistan prime minister in spite of the provocations in Jammu, Mr Singh has reclaimed his agency over a project that had been his top priority when he assumed office in 2004. This may not seem the best thing to do, with an Opposition candidate for the prime ministerial post shouting from the ramparts against the neglect of “national self-respect and security”. But Mr Singh has taken the right decision, and has conveyed his seriousness about following it through.
Mr Singh’s show of nerve should be be appreciated not because it improves his image as a decision-maker, but because India most definitely needs to break the pattern of its response that is proving to be such a tease for the forces trying to destabilize the peace process. There can be questions about the efficacy of following a process with a civilian establishment in Pakistan that does not have the army on board about its peace initiative. But two things need to be kept in mind. One, nothing but diplomacy can save two nuclear-powered nations from each other, especially if there are people hell-bent on setting one against the other. Two, if the Nawaz Sharif dispensation has to finally cut the umbilical cord between the army and Pakistan’s power structure, it will need help from India to make the army gradually irrelevant through peace. With Mr Sharif ready to choose his own man to lead the Pakistan army, the moment seems right for India to extend a helping hand. A snub to Mr Sharif would do nothing but warm the hearts of the warmongers in the army.
All this, however, is no reason for Mr Singh to give up his strategy to “trust, but verify”. Mr Sharif has to be prodded to make his own commitments to the peace process by hurrying up with the 26/11 investigations and breaking his links with jihadists who preach war against India. But to do all that, India will have to talk to him. That is what Mr Singh has decided to do.