THE US State Department’s repeated exhortations to New Delhi to resume talks with Pakistan are correct in principle, unless the intention is to temporarily mollify Islamabad and help pull the American chestnuts out of the Afghan fire. However, dialogue of any kind always has an endgame. As the past shows, India never shied away from talking to Pakistan — from talks at the highest level to sustaining and nurturing the supporting infrastructure by interaction on the Indus Water Treaty, the exchange of civilian prisoners and scrupulous adherence to confidence-building measures such as notifying Pakistan of its missile tests and exchanging a list of nuclear establishments at the beginning of each year.
India initially attempted talks when the Modi government had been in office for just over a year, despite Pakistan’s continued truculence in stoking the embers in J&K. The payback for PM Modi’s surprise stopover in Pakistan in 2015 was the attack on the Pathankot air force base. NSA Ajit Doval’s bid to break the ice with his Pakistani counterpart through covert politico-security talks earned a horrendous blowback in the form of the Pulwama attack. Each time, Pakistan has responded to attempts to address the drivers of conflict and hostility with India by unleashing proxy-driven violent conflict. As Doval put it, the restrictions in J&K were aimed at preempting Pakistan from creating more mischief through proxies at a time when India was trying to put through a game-changing transformation of the state’s societal and economic landscape.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in stark contrast to the invective-laden rhetoric from across the border, has underlined India’s desire for normal neighbourly relations. But it is not just India that has issues with Pakistan’s terror campaigns as a tool of its State policy. Even Iran and Afghanistan have singled out Pakistan for activating terrorist assets to get its way. The US needs to take into account Pakistan’s continued proclivity in this regard, though the latter may have served it well in Afghanistan during the Cold War years. Pakistan can neither contribute to a progressive, modern and peaceful region nor make India do its bidding while upholding medieval tools of coercion.