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Don’t Bite Pakistan’s Bait

Author: Sushant Sareen
Publication: Newslaundry.com
Date: December 13, 2016
URL:   https://www.newslaundry.com/2016/12/13/dont-bite-pakistans-bait

Every government in India has struggled with its relationship with Pakistan. Maybe it’s time to play hardball?

Even though the usual suspects in the Indian media who flaunt their faux liberalism by batting for an illiberal country like Pakistan were deeply disappointed by India’s refusal of India to re-engage the Pakistanis at the political level either bilaterally or through a pull-aside during the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar, the decision to not bite the bait of talks with Pakistan was the right thing to do. What is more, the alleged shabby treatment meted out to Sartaj Aziz, which caused a lot of heartburn among Pakistan's apologists in India, was really nothing more than ending the sort of entitlement that Pakistani officials had come to expect during visits to India.

On the eve of the Amritsar conference, the Pakistanis tried to send a signal that they would be willing to hold talks with India. But they never put in a formal request for a bilateral. Clearly the expectation was that India would request for a bilateral, which the Pakistanis would ‘graciously’ accept. This is precisely what had been happening in the past and the Pakistanis probably thought India would bite the bait thrown, by their High Commissioner among others, yet another time. The reason why India didn’t bite was simple: Pakistan's professed desire for talks with India is dripping with insincerity and is aimed more at earning brownie points with the international community by making a show of reasonableness in the face of India’s obdurate refusal to hold a bilateral dialogue. The fact that Pakistan's offer of talks is suffixed by the ‘K’ word being the centre point of any talks with India makes it clear that there is absolutely no change in Pakistan's deeply inimical attitude towards India.

Quite aside India’s aversion to discuss yet another vivisection, little purpose will be served by talking to a Pakistan, which comes to the talks table with an unreconstructed mindset suffused with hatred of India in general and Hindus in particular and which remains unreconciled to the reality of India.

And yet, the turn-the-other-cheek liberals advocate re-opening a dialogue on the basis of the specious argument that ultimately, all disputes and feuds are solved by sitting across a table and settling issues. This is so much hogwash. The word ‘ultimately’ actually hides all that precedes a dialogue. The unalloyed truth is that dialogue never solves anything between countries; it only works out the modalities of implementing what has been decided on the battle-field.

For instance, the oft-quoted American-Vietnamese talks didn’t end the war in Vietnam. That war was won by the Vietnamese on the ground and the Paris Talks only helped in an orderly, if also unseemly, exit of the Americans from Vietnam. The bottom line is that for any talks to be successful, there has to be some middle ground or at least some compromise that one or both sides are willing to make to clinch a deal. Countries agree to compromise on issues of sovereign nature invariably as a result of what has happened on the battle-field, or as a result of an economic collapse or an unbearable economic burden that makes compromise palatable; or even because of some internal or external development that makes compromise tenable. As things exist today, none of these conditions obtain that would make Pakistan amenable to a compromise and set aside not just its irredentist claims on Kashmir, but also get off its Jihadist and Islamofascist hobby-horse.

The Pakistanis however think they can force India to come on to the talks table on their terms using not just international pressure but also their sympathisers and supporters in India. Internationally, the almost-daily harangue in the United Nations, constant entreaties to Western countries, using Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and other such forums, are part of the effort to build pressure on India to talk to Pakistan.

The problem is that all their screaming and shouting and threatening (a nuclear war), hurling over-the-top allegations against India is not getting much traction. Most countries around the world have seen through Pakistan’s self-serving propaganda and lies. But what continues to hold out some hope for the Pakistanis is the old Western obsession that diplomacy and dialogue must continue between India and Pakistan. At the same time, what punctures the Pakistani balloon is the fact that even as the Western countries weigh in, in favour of a dialogue, they tell the Pakistanis to deliver on their commitments on not allowing their territory to be used for terrorism – precisely what India too is saying has to be a pre-requisite for talks to have any chance of success. In other words, the message to the Pakistanis is clear: talks and terror cannot go hand-in-hand.

More sinister than Pakistan's international campaign against India is the thinly-disguised effort to subvert Indian public opinion using the usual suspects. This became clear when addressing the Pakistan Senate, Aziz revealed that “steps were already being taken to reach out to segments of the Indian public that were opposed to Narendra Modi’s extremism” and said that “our missions abroad, including in New Delhi, are making outreach efforts to emphasise the extremist Indian policies.” A sample of the success of this ‘outreach’ to that section of Indians who are ever-ready to find fault with everything India and always ready to blindly accept Pakistanis bona fides and swallow every nonsensical spin that they dish out was apparent in the breast-beating over how Aziz wasn’t allowed to have a run of the place in Amritsar. Parroting the Pakistani line, these Indians clucked their disapproval of Aziz not being seated on the high-table at the dinner hosted by the Indian Prime Minister.

Unless of course the case is being made that just because he is a Pakistani coming to India for an Afghanistan-related conference, this entitles him to a seat on the high-table. Aziz, who isn’t even a full-fledged foreign minister, was treated in a correct manner by not being seated at the high-table. Similarly, without indulging in the sort of boorish and uncouth behaviour that the Pakistanis meted out to the Indian Home Minister during his visit to Islamabad, the Indian government very sensibly put its foot down on the Pakistani sense of entitlement of holding press conferences in India in which they badmouth India and try to push their propaganda. Not allowing Aziz a visit to the Golden Temple was also the right thing to do considering the desperate efforts of Pakistan to revive the Khalistan movement. But instead of understanding where the Indian government was coming from, Pakistan’s lobbyists in India preferred to toe the Pakistani line. And this is just the start.

In the weeks and months ahead, these people will once again try to build a narrative of how important it is for India to restart a dialogue with Pakistan. One of the line of attacks that is likely to be mounted will be that Modi is heading a hard-line, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha-driven, Right-wing Hindu government, which is not just threatening democracy and secularism in India, but is also incapable of making peace with a neighbour like Pakistan. Of course, this doesn’t answer the question as to why governments that preceded the Modi’s Sarkar and whose democratic and secular credentials were never in doubt were unable to make peace with Pakistan eeither. Remember, the demand for Pakistan was made when stalwarts like MK Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad were ruling the roost and for the first nearly-50 years there were only ‘secular’, ‘liberal’ and ‘democratic’ governments in India. Pakistan’s approach to India even under those governments wasn’t exactly all sugar and honey. The only difference is that now, it seems that the Indian government has decided to change the template of dealing with Pakistan and not repeat the same old mistakes, which end up taking India round and round in circles. It would be an unmitigated tragedy if this government was to succumb to the liberal lobby espousing Pakistan's cause and slip back into the old routine of re-initiating desultory talks with Pakistan and in the process emboldening Pakistan to think it can get away with murder of Indian citizens.

Apart from the ideological assault, the liberals (and unfortunately many right-wingers as well) will also mouth inanities like ‘we can choose friends but not neighbours’, ‘we cannot live in perpetual hostility with neighbours’, ‘we cannot change geography’, ‘we must support the civilians in Pakistan’, and ‘we must work for peace and normalisation’. The trouble with these pious-sounding formulations is that somehow these are only emanating from India. The Pakistanis don’t seem to think the same way. If anything, these sort of statements are taken as a cue by the Pakistanis to continue with their unremitting acts of violence against India.

The Pakistanis believe that with Indians hankering for peace, they can hold peace hostage and use it to blackmail India to give them what they want. Hence, the Pakistani formulation that there can be no peace in South Asia until Kashmir is settled to the satisfaction of Pakistan. Talk of good neighbourliness and peace by Indians actually encourages and reinforces Pakistan's view that it is a matter of time before India succumbs to their pressure tactics. Unless they are disabused of this notion, there is no way the Pakistanis will become amenable to living in peace.

As for strengthening the civilian leadership in Pakistan by reaching out to it, well, the job of the Indian government is to secure its own country and people; and not the Prime Minister of Pakistan, who in any case is living in the time bubble where he thinks he can continue with the policies of the 1990s and deal with India and Kashmir in different silos. In other words, continue stirring trouble in Kashmir, but also engage India in trade and other pursuits. Clearly, this is not a workable proposition, certainly not from India's point of view.

Confronted as India is with a neighbour from hell, the only way to deal with this neighbour is not to deal with it until it changes its behaviour. If this takes decades, then so be it. Changing policy with change in seasons is hardly the way to tackle a millenarian challenge. Pakistan is a little flummoxed as to why India is no longer behaving like the India of yore. Just like the Pakistanis, their lobbyists in India haven’t quite been able to figure out the still-incipient change in India. The sooner this change becomes more widespread and permanent – a heroic assumption given the tendency of many even in the Right-wing for a flip-flop approach on Pakistan – the sooner it will prepare India to tackle the Pakistan problem in a robust and realistic manner. But if India once again succumbs to the ‘we are the same people’, or that ‘we are carved from the same cloth’ or even the ‘we are part of the same body’ nonsense, then it will be back to square one and India will continue to pay a very heavy price.
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