Bottomline | Keep the Bluster Aside

Talks are the only way to move ahead with Pakistan

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

The year ends on a tragic note for the Indian Army. One officer and three soldiers were killed by Pakistan’s Border Action Team (BAT) well inside the Line of Control (LC), despite the September 2016 surgical strikes; a grim reminder of Modi government’s failed muscular diplomacy against Pakistan. Yet, instead of course correction, India continues with perception management by pretending to be on top of the situation.

A professional assessment of the recent Pakistan’s BAT shows that the Pakistan Army, having assessed Indian military capabilities, had concluded that they were nothing to worry about. Ironically, it was opposite with the Indian surgical strikes, which were no more than ‘low-level counter-terror operations,’ as the foreign secretary S. Jaishankar had told the Parliament committee on external affairs.

Planned at the national level, with the Prime Minister, defence minister, National Security Advisor, and the entire top brass of the army deeply involved in it, the September 2016 surgical strikes were meant to kill terrorists, and not Pakistani soldiers, at launch pads. Instead of denial, which is the norm in such operations since the enemy should be kept guessing, India, fearing escalation, immediately told the Pakistan Army that the operation was over and more were not planned. This was an admission that India lacked counter-offensive or war-winning capabilities. The then defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, recently admitted this at the Goa Lit Fest. He told the media, “We had to send officers with authority to carry out on the spot purchase. When you work out something, your preparation has to be perfect to ensure that everything is taken care (of).” Since India does not have requisite ammunitions, weapon systems including artillery, air defence, aircraft, ships, submarines and so on, the enemy does not get impressed by bluster.

This also explains the unusually high ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army in 2017. According to official statistics, there were 780 violations on the LoC and 120 on the Jammu border by Pakistan Army this year — more than double from the previous two years. Pakistan Army’s audacious behaviour can be attributed to two factors:

  • One, interoperability (ability to fight together with China’s People’s Liberation Army) whereby the Pakistan military can perhaps fight a longer war with larger variety of weapon systems and in more war domains than the Indian military; and
  • Two, China’s extraordinary political support to Pakistan.

Given this, India is not really in a position to dictate conditions for talks to Pakistan.

Why should India desire good ties with Pakistan? Because not doing so might undercut benefits from Iran’s Chabahar port, render participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation sub-optimal, enervate relations with Afghanistan, stress ties with China, make Russia’s motives suspect, allow neighbourhood nations to indulge in zero-sum game between India and China, and continue wastage of Indian soldiers in the needless proxy war. Moreover, the US would be more inclined to put Pakistan on the mat for its duplicity if chances of a nuclear war in South Asia recede.

Given this, more than the talks, it is necessary to work on the talks’ format so that once each side has stated and restated its position — which is what usually happens —, they do not hit the brick wall. Devising a plan, where, despite setbacks, both sides have reasons to stay engaged is perhaps the most challenging and essential job.

A layered approach, maybe, with three simultaneous dialogue procedures, or even more, could be considered. The most sensitive talks, which would form the pivot of the peace process, could be the interaction between the two National Security Advisors. Taking cue from the December 2015 bilateral understanding where the two NSAs were to discuss terrorism in all its manifestation, the ambit could be broadened to include military confidence building measures (CBMs).

Drawing authority from the 1999 memorandum of understanding (MoU) of the Lahore Declaration, more subjects, like future technology destabilisers, could be discussed. These could include nuclear policies, ballistic missile defence, tactical nuclear weapons, cruise missiles, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, sea-based deterrence, militarisation of space, cyber warfare, strategic restraint regime, nuclear risk reduction centre and so on. India’s hesitation to discuss nuclear issues with Pakistan on grounds that its strategic weapons are meant for China has been overtaken by the interoperability between the Pakistan military and the PLA. Irrespective of results, these discussions, which should be of immense interest for both sides (especially Pakistan), would provide cushion for the lurking disappointment on Kashmir talks.

Talks on the Kashmir issue could be part of the second dialogue process, which the foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj had announced in the Parliament in December 2015. On her return from Pakistan after attending the Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan, she has proposed a ‘comprehensive bilateral dialogue’ covering more subjects than the earlier ‘Composite Dialogue’ suspended in the wake of the 26/11 attacks.

Another dialogue process could be regular meetings between the two director general military operations (DGMOs). These will help better understand one another’s concerns, expectations, psyche, thought process and so on, something which is not possible by telephonic talks or single publicised meeting where both sides are expected to stick to official briefs.

Talks, to be sure is the only way forward for both sides. Once these commence, both the infiltration and instability in the Kashmir valley would wane.


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