Last week, the Prime Minister once again reiterated his position on negotiations with Islamabad, stating unequivocally that while New Delhi is determined to combat terror with “full vigour” it must “strive to engage neighbours constructively and resolve differences through peaceful means and negotiations”. Seen as general principles, the two propositions are unexceptionable. In the present circumstances, they can, indeed, be seen to be the two pillars on which a civilised state should base its foreign policy.

Clearly, as someone put it, the Prime Minister is not prepared to “opt out of the negotiations option in a hurry”, which is fortunate for a country like India which cannot but influence international affairs in some way or the other for every act of commission or omission on its part because of its sheer size.

Negotiations option

For argument’s sake, if such an option was exercised by New Delhi vis-À-vis Islamabad, what would be the state of play of India-Pakistan relations? The point needs to be underscored that the absence of negotiations does not automatically imply the beginning of hostilities on the ground. Having said this, the option would mean the adoption of an aggressive stance internationally on any and every issue in which Pakistan is involved.

Such a policy would rule out negotiations with the neighbour on every aspect of bilateralism which, among other things, would ultimately affect the lives of citizens living on both sides of the border. This would be most apparent in the economic sphere because a halt to ongoing bilateral interaction would close doors to the future potential of mutual economic progress. Clearly, on rational grounds, such a policy cannot figure in a valid choice-scenario.

Now, what is the actual state of interaction between the two sides at this moment? If the level is low, it can be argued that disrupting the ongoing overall negotiations process will not affect much the current relations between the two countries. If the question is asked as to what, basically, has been responsible for the barrenness of effective results flowing from “negotiations” over the past decades, the immediate answer would be the calculated obstreperousness on the part of Pakistani negotiators (irrespective of the sphere of talks involved) to make the talks a success.

Will it pay off?

Is it then a matter of state policy on the part of Pakistan (especially when military dictators are in power in Islamabad) always to be seen to be at daggers drawn with India for reasons which are today no longer a secret? If this is so, will Dr Singh’s policy of continuing to focus on the negotiations-option vis-À-vis Islamabad pay off in the long run?

Prima facie, the answer is “no” because, after all, one cannot clap with a single hand! Since closing the negotiations-option does not mean that India and Pakistan will immediately begin to engage in hostilities on the ground, will it not make more sense to keep up the pressure on Islamabad by continuing to twist the “terrorism-dagger”, which is in fact already deep in Pakistan’s side (importantly, more so from the international perspective than just from the Indian point of view)?

The core of the issue here appears to be the fact that the Pakistani power establishment (the military and the ISI), which wields the stick on the domestic civil scene with impunity and in total disregard of all norms of democratic behaviour, understands and appreciates only the use of the stick as a sign of strength on the part of a perceived opponent. Civil talk makes no lasting impact on such people.

RANABIR RAY CHOUDHURY

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 2, 2009)
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