Diplomatic engagement with a neighbour having territorial ambitions and an abiding desire to alter the balance of power has to be carefully planned and executed. Apart from realistically assessing the balance of military and economic power, one has also to carefully assess the neighbour’s internal political equations, and whether the political and army leadership have the inclination and the will to live at peace, without resorting to terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

Sadly, there are vociferous sections in India that believe that dialogue with Pakistan is an end in itself, without really studying what the alternative options are.

Pakistan lost its eastern half and 13,000 square kilometres of its territory in the west, one half of its navy, one-fourth of its air force and army, with India holding 90,368 POWs, at the end of the 1971 Bangladesh conflict. In subsequent negotiations in Shimla with her counterpart Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, India’s most hard-headed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was persuaded by key officials that Bhutto would be devastated politically if he went back empty-handed from the talks. While returning the POWs was inevitable, what was surprising was a decision to withdraw from the territory captured by our forces, following a mere verbal assurance from Bhutto that he would, in due course, settle the Kashmir issue.

Bhutto had no intention of abiding by his verbal commitment. Within a decade, Pakistan sought to upset the territorial status quo by promoting a communal divide in Punjab. This was followed by arming and training disaffected Kashmiri youths to promote an armed insurgency in J&K. Pakistan also sought to exploit ‘fault lines’ in India’s body politic. It executed terrorist strikes, such as the Mumbai bomb blasts in 1993 in which 250 Indians perished while the perpetrator, Dawood Ebrahim, resides comfortably in Karachi and even ventures abroad on a Pakistani passport. All these developments took place amidst continuing ‘dialogue’ with Pakistan.

False hopes

The dialogue was called off by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1994 when she found that efforts to coerce India on J&K had not worked. Moreover, unlike in earlier years, Kashmiri youths were becoming increasingly wary of crossing the LoC, to be armed and trained for jihad . What followed was the induction of Pakistani nationals from ISI-backed terrorist outfits such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

It is important to note that this shift in Pakistani strategies from support for a Kashmiri “freedom struggle” to jihad by Pakistani terrorists occurred not because of any “composite dialogue” but because of ground realities. Moreover, it was during this period that, thanks to imaginative political initiatives and effective policing, Pakistan-backed militancy in Punjab ended. Terrorists from the Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), however, still reside in Lahore and elsewhere in Pakistan.

The dialogue stand-off

Prime Minister IK Gujral initiated discussions in 1997 with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, later described as the “Composite Dialogue Process,” in which dialogue on terrorism was not given significant priority. Terrorism was merely put on the same pedestal as drug smuggling!

The first round of this dialogue was held in 1998, after the nuclear tests. Determined to ensure that India was seen as sincere in its quest for peace, Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Lahore, only to find that rather than promoting peace, the resumption of the dialogue was accompanied by Pakistani intrusions across the LoC, leading to the Kargil conflict, amidst Pakistani threats of nuclear escalation. President Musharraf’s visit to Agra was followed by the attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001. Structured dialogue had only led to an escalation of terrorism and violence.

The military stand-off after the attack on Parliament and the post 9/11 American invasion of Afghanistan forced Musharraf to think afresh. He proposed a ceasefire across the LoC and gave an assurance that “territory under Pakistan’s control” would not be used for terrorism against India. He abided by his commitments.

The UPA government was, however, horribly wrong in presuming that a weak democratic government led by Asif Ali Zardari, a Sindhi Shia, would be able to rein in the jihadi propensities of General Ashfaq Kayani, a hardcore Islamist. New Delhi also underestimated the significance of the deadly ISI-sponsored attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008. The terror strike of 26/11 in Mumbai was inevitable. It was the public outcry that followed the disastrous summit diplomacy in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, which forced the UPA government to tread warily thereafter.

Given what followed the attack on India’s embassy in Kabul, New Delhi should not underestimate the significance of the attack on the Indian consulate in Herat on the eve of Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Delhi. The recent demonstrations led by Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri enjoy behind the scenes backing of the Pakistani military establishment.

Wishful thinking

The army has indicated that it will assist Sharif. But in return for this support it has demanded that Sharif “must share more space with the army”. To expect that in these circumstances, Sharif can deliver on India’s concerns on terrorism, or promote trade and energy cooperation significantly, is wishful thinking. The tough stance that India has taken on the links of the Pakistan establishment with the Hurriyat conveys that it is not going to be “business as usual” with Pakistan, especially if it continues with ceasefire violations while abetting terrorism in India and threatening our diplomatic missions and nationals in Afghanistan.

In her meticulously researched book, The Pakistan Army’s Ways of War , American academic Christine Faire notes that in order to deal with Pakistani army policies which undermine US interests and seek to destabilise India, the US should consider means to “contain the threats that emanate from Pakistan, if not Pakistan itself”. This is the first time a reputed American academic has spoken of the need to “contain” Pakistan. While calibrated engagement with whoever rules Pakistan is necessary, it has to be complemented with measures to tighten India’s internal security, enhance military capabilities and raise the costs for Pakistan if it pursues its present efforts to “weaken India from within”.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan