India and Pakistan have not been talking since the Mumbai attacks of 2008; time for a reset?
From the perspective of calm, realistic and ruthless self-interest, New Delhi should consider opening up the dialogue process with Islamabad stalled for over a decade now in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Prime Minister Imran Khan is busy trying to prevent an implosion in Pakistan as that country’s economy teeters towards collapse; the once-proud Pathan has lately spent his time running from Saudi Arabia to China begging bowl in hand as he prepares to make Pakistan’s case for (yet another) International Monetary Fund bail-out. The Durand Line remains as porous as ever and the Pakistan Army and ISI’s running of covert operations in Afghanistan has of late been met with smart counter-moves by Kabul while on its Eastern front the Indian Army’s aggressive posture on both the Line-of-Control and the International Border has meant that launchpads for terrorists being infiltrated into the Kashmir Valley are under pressure and even those ultras who get through are being eliminated efficiently in the main by Indian security forces. All of this, do remember, is playing out against a backdrop of Khan’s promise of a Naya Pakistan or what he terms a moderate ‘Islamic Welfare State’ showing no signs of coming to fruition in the near future. Unless, that is, Pakistan’s powerful neighbour, viz India, decides to help him in his project. For a price, of course. And that price is peace and an end to the Pakistani deep state's strategy of bleeding India.
It is a truism that one should only negotiate from a position of strength. The question before policy-makers and strategic thinkers in India is, therefore, to assess if we are in that position. Our guess is, we are. It follows, therefore, that we need to ignore the well-meaning if foolish platitudes trotted out by peaceniks urging New Delhi to go for the low-hanging fruit such as bolstering trade and economic ties while leaving the core, contentious issues including terrorism and Kashmir for later. On the contrary, the idea should be to go for the big one, as it were, provided we are sure Pakistan has been undermined enough domestically and via external pressures that its leadership is willing to engage constructively on substantive issues to prevent the shambles of a failed state. This does not, of course, mean that we will have it all our way; compromises will be necessary, some not very palatable. But peace in our times is a prize worth punting on.
A joint declaration which includes, inter alia, a commitment to end support for terrorism in each other’s countries with a mechanism to verify this actually takes place on the ground, a joint, public affirmation of the fact that the borders of either country can no longer be re-drawn and Islamabad following New Delhi in declaring a nuclear doctrine of no first-use should be the bedrock of any agreement and the agenda for the dialogue. Once that's agreed, intensifying economic cooperation, enhancing trade, providing aid and succour in times of emergencies, agreements on Sir Creek, the Indus Water Treaty, greater people-to-people contacts, cultural exchanges all come into play and provide the promise of a future the sub-continent can look forward to. We would have to be prepared, though, to give up on getting the perpetrators of the Mumbai blasts of 1993 and the 2008 attack masterminds back to face justice in India — unless black ops can do the needful before a peace deal is reached.