Failed talks at Islamabad

Pakistan turns the tables on India


Brahma Chellaney

The Economic Times, July 20, 2010


In the blame-game over the botched Islamabad talks, it is India that comes out looking poorer. First, it resumed talks with Pakistan without having secured anything on the central issue of terrorism. Second, having made a diplomatic climbdown, India found itself being publicly put in the dock at the conclusion of the Islamabad talks.


The upshot is that a defensive India has had to respond to public accusations by a country whose state agencies continue to orchestrate acts of terror against Indian targets. This, however, is not the first time Pakistan has turned the tables on India.


Whether it was the Agra summit, or the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, or the latest talks, it was a “hurt” India that came out defending itself. As long as India continues to cling to a diplomacy of hope and dreams, Pakistan, although a failing state, will continue to reap the diplomatic advantage.


Few states put as much faith in diplomacy alone as India does. Yet, in the absence of realistic, goal-oriented statecraft, the propensity to act in haste and repent at leisure runs deep in Indian foreign policy. Gushy expectations and wishful thinking have blighted Indian foreign policy and condemned the nation to relive history.


The previous BJP-led government took India on a roller-coaster ride, with an ever-shifting policy course on Pakistan. The present government is taking India on another jarring roller-coaster ride, having learned no lesson from the Sharm el-Sheikh blunder or its earlier action in designating Pakistan as a “fellow victim of terror” like India.


Pretty much everyone in the Indian delegation returned from Sharm el-Sheikh with egg on his face — from the prime minister, who claimed incredulously that he had done nothing to change anything, to the foreign secretary, who blamed “poor drafting” for causing the furor in India. Yet, no sooner had the uproar subsided than the PM sought to redo exactly what had angered the nation.


What prompted New Delhi this year to resume dialogue with Pakistan, first at the foreign-secretary level and then at the foreign-minister level? Mum is the word. Confusion and contradiction marks India’s current Pakistan policy. Just take one example.


On the one hand, New Delhi blames Pakistan‘s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency for "controlling and coordinating" the Mumbai terror attacks “from the beginning to the end.” And on the other hand, it institutes “peace talks” with a Pakistani government whose India policy is controlled by the army and ISI. What does India seek to gain from such talks? Mum again is the word.


If New Delhi really has evidence to implicate the ISI in the Mumbai attacks, shouldn’t it, at a minimum, designate that rogue agency as a terrorist organization?


But that may be expecting too much from a government that thus far has not taken the smallest of small steps in response to the Mumbai attacks, not even as a mere token of India’s outrage over the role of Pakistani state actors in those strikes. Apart from sending Pakistan dossier after dossier pleading for action against the masterminds (and, in the process, fashioning a new counterterrorism tool — dossier-bombing), New Delhi has not lifted a finger.


In fact, the PM has been continuously shifting his Pakistan-related goalpost. After the Mumbai attacks, Singh first sought the dismantlement of Pakistan’s terror infrastructure against India. His benchmark then narrowed to bringing to justice the “perpetrators” (the actual executors, not the masterminds) of the Mumbai attacks. Next, Singh further watered down his stance by saying India was “willing to walk more than half the distance” if Pakistan undertook not actual action but merely offered “a renewed reaffirmation” to “bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre to justice”. That is exactly what happened: In exchange for Pakistan’s mere reaffirmation of its anti-terror commitments, Singh resumed talks, only to suffer an embarrassing debacle in Islamabad.


But don’t expect the PM to give up on his make-peace-with-Pakistan line. In fact, after returning from Islamabad, the Indian foreign minister publicly blames the home secretary for ruining the talks. “Everyone who was privy to whatever was happening in government ought to have known that the right kind of atmosphere from India’s side should have been created for the talks to go on in a very normal manner, but unfortunately this episode happened,” he said.


Dangerous delusions characterize the Indian policy approach. One is that, “We cannot wish away the fact that Pakistan is our neighbor,” as the PM says. So, “a stable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan” is in India’s “own interest.” But political maps are never carved in stone, as the breaking away of Eritrea, East Timor and others have shown. Didn’t Indira Gandhi change political geography in 1971? In fact, the most-profound global events in recent history have been the fragmentation of several states, including the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. If Pakistan is on the path to self-destruct, why does India want “a stable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan”?


Another delusion is that India and Pakistan are locked by a shared destiny. How can a plural, inclusive and democratic India share a common future with a theocratic, militarized and radicalized Pakistan?


 Randall L. Schweller, in his study Deadly Imbalances, labels revisionist nations “wolves” and “jackals”, while status quo states are either “lambs” or “lions”.  India certainly qualifies as a “lamb”, surrounded by “jackal” Pakistan and “wolf” China.  The “lamb” status is in keeping with its intrinsic disposition and meek objectives.  Although its borders have shrunk since independence, India is lamb-like content with the status quo.  Only a “lamb” state will make unilateral concessions.  Also, only a “lamb” will assume that others change their beliefs and policies as rapidly as it meanders to a new course.


Brahma Chellaney is Professor of Strategic Studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

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