While Pak may try peacenik moves with a call for dialogue, India is right to stick to ‘no terror’ clause
One of the news reports before the outcome of the Indian elections was about a dipstick among Pakistanis, where some expatriates hoped Prime Minister Narendra Modi would return so that the scourge of terrorism could be finally wiped out from their home country. Whatever the nature of this back-handed compliment, it sort of bears out why Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, too, thought a Modi-led stable government in India would be decisive enough to do business with. And though widely seen as a puppet prince foisted by the fundamentalists and the military, one would on the face of it think that there would be some remnants of his Oxford-groomed liberalism that perhaps wished Modi’s muscularity, fed by Pakistan-groomed terror networks, to force a change of domestic policy and maybe pitch economics higher than geopolitics as a doable proposition. But beyond this facetiousness, what really bothers Khan is his wavering conviction whether he could justify a proxy war with India anymore. Simply because the world, too, where Pakistan has been selling the Kashmir cause as a bargaining chip for exporting terror, has now turned against old tropes after the terrorist attack at Pulwama and the Balakot airstrikes. With Modi’s victory, Khan has to live with the fact that anti-India histrionics of the past will have to be reinvented if he wants to perpetuate “India, the big boy in the hood” theory. Particularly when its friendly saviour China, too, after allowing the UN listing of Jaish chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, has made it clear that its relations with India and Pakistan would be single-point and have no areas of convergence. Besides, Modi’s reminder that talks could only resume in the absence of terror clearly is intended to drive home the point that Balakot was not just a major electoral issue but would define the rules of engagement hereon. If there’s a terrorist attack again, one can retaliate with a non-military hot pursuit of terrorist camps, staying well under the confrontation threshold. The perceived “morality” of attacking terror hubs, as has been practised by the US several times, is now acceptable.
In such a situation, Pakistan, by proposing the talks first, is trying to project itself as a practical neighbour and a first-mover in the peace process. It attempted this image makeover with grandiloquent talk of dialogue as the only civil way of resolution even during Balakot. Clearly, the conflict may have conflated the nature of nationalism as we knew it here but has badly affected Pakistan, which has been taken aback by India’s new-found aggression and is engaging in sweet talk now. In such a situation, Modi is expected to maintain the conditional clause of linking terror with talks for some time, if only to appear righteous before the citizenry. Post-Kargil, he has successfully brought Pakistan’s role in our woes of national security to the centre court. So he won’t go against this narrative that easily knowing full well Pakistan is desperate to show some gains for its domestic audience, too. In fact, the Modi government, which has also cracked down on border trade in its earlier stint, will wait to see if Pakistan changes its tactics vis-a-vis India over a period of time. Though the IMF has released a package to a fund-starved Pakistan, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is still watching it. China will become the new FATF chief with tacit approval of the US and India and may not be seen as entirely favouring Pakistan. So, India is hoping to have Pakistan in a cleft stick and climb down on terms for a dialogue. Even assuming preposterously that both sides agree to dialogue at some stage in the future, there is no guarantee that Pakistan can rein in its “non-state actors”, a euphemism for exported terrorists to keep its strategic relevance in the region. So subservient are the government and military to the fundamentalist lobby that they may not know what their other hand is doing. It is this duality that has pitchforked Pakistan as a key player in the Afghan peace talks and it is unlikely it will retreat. Besides, the growing IS network in Afghanistan is a worry for Pakistan itself. Many such talks between India and Pakistan have been sabotaged before and no amount of confidence-building measure has been able to take off. In the absence of pragmatism and a desire to resolve the Kashmir question genuinely, the suggestion of a dialogue is nothing better than a sounding board of ideas.
Courtesy: The Pioneer