File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Pakistan PM Imran Khan | YouTube
File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Pakistan PM Imran Khan | YouTube
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All diplomacy,” said Communist China’s first premier Zhou Enlai, is a “continuation of war by other means”. The statement was a play on the famous line by Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz: “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”

For many long years, India’s Pakistan policy has been seen as a choice of two bad alternatives: talks or guns, diplomacy or war, peace or hostility. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his second term in office, he is uniquely positioned to break the binaries. It doesn’t have to be either talks or guns; they can go together.

When Modi and Pakistan PM Imran Khan meet in June in Bishkek, it will be easy to begin another half-hearted and lazy bilateral process that would easily be halted by another big terror attack. That has been the banal history of India-Pakistan peace efforts. It is time to break that mould.

The India-Pakistan dynamic today is not what it was in 2014. Modi has sought to establish a new normal with Pakistan, which is to respond to big terror attacks with militarily might. These military responses in 2016 and 2019 have, at the very least, solved the problem of public opinion. No longer can it be said that the Indian government is looking weak before the Indian public thanks to terror attacks.

It is, therefore, obvious that the old paradigm of “talks and terror can’t go together” is obsolete. It is inexplicable that India is willing to engage Pakistan militarily but not diplomatically. “Talks” should no longer be linked to “terror”, since “terror” is now being taken care of by “surgical strikes”.


Also read: Why Pakistan is keen to hold talks with India despite Modi’s negative poll campaign


Diplomatic games

Consider how Pakistan has been using bilateral diplomacy to get the better of India. Without piping down on its Kashmir rhetoric, Pakistan unilaterally announced its decision to open the Kartarpur Sahib gurudwara for Indian pilgrims, even without visa. The decision left the Modi government with no options, since rebuffing Pakistan’s offer would have made Indian look bad before its own Sikh community. Pakistan used the sentiments of the Sikh population to force India to deal with Pakistan, contrary to its stated position of a bilateral freeze.

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As Pakistan captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, it was wise to quickly announce his release to de-escalate tensions. Perhaps that was the only option Pakistan had, given the international pressure on both countries to de-escalate tensions, but it nevertheless used the opportunity to show Imran Khan as a peacenik.

It is thus important for India to get out of the mould of seeing direct bilateral engagement with Pakistan as a concession or a weakness. On the contrary, India should see direct bilateral engagement as an opportunity to gain concessions from Pakistan.


Also read: Imran Khan calls PM Modi & expresses desire for better India-Pakistan relations


A long war

It is clear to everyone that the India-Pakistan stalemate is not going to be solved in a jiffy. Pakistan’s proxy warfare strategy is not a short-term strategy but a long-term one. The armed forces of both countries similarly run their militaries with a long-term strategy against each other. If you hear security and strategic experts, they talk in terms of decades. Why, then, should bilateral diplomatic engagement be thought of in terms of weeks and months?

Talks, many Indians often complain, take us nowhere. What do they achieve? But the military tensions, the LoC firings, the surgical strikes also don’t take us to another place, better or worse. India and Pakistan have mastered the fine balance of the status quo. Both sides seem to revel in maintaining the status quo.

They could similarly have a permanent talk process that thinks in terms of decades, sets low expectations, and should not be called off with a terror strike that will anyway see a military response from India. If New Delhi was able to de-link Kartarpur and the larger peace process, talks and terror can also be de-linked.


Also read: With Lok Sabha elections over, how can India and Pakistan now repair fractured ties?


Want of trying

There have been 21 rounds of talks between India and China to solve the China-India border dispute. No resolution is in sight. Despite Chinese aggression and attempts to take Indian territory, talks go on. Perhaps they’ve achieved nothing, but what harm did they cause? And perhaps they did achieve something – helping maintain the status quo.

It is high time India and Pakistan set up a long-term bilateral process, with separate talks on terrorism and security, territorial disputes, trade, prisoners, visas and so on. How will India gain anything from bilateral negotiations if it doesn’t even try? Just as a military response is seen as necessary in the face of terror strikes, so is diplomatic engagement. As Zhou Enlai and Clausewitz suggest, diplomacy and war are one and the same thing: pursuit of national self-interest.

Views are personal.

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11 Comments Share Your Views

11 COMMENTS

  1. This article ignores the simple fact that “talks and terror don’t go together” is also war by other means. In short, both politics (internally) and diplomacy (externally). The alternative: uninterruptedly and uninterruptedly talking has yielded unending Jihad by Islam against India

  2. In talks the problem is, the moment there is any positive development in relations , either there will be a terror attack on Indian soil by ISI or Pakistani PM will be removed, jailed or killed.
    If India did not won diplomatically with Pakistan then why Masood Azhar is UN designated terrorist? Why nobody condemn Balakot strikes? Why World Bank allows India to build dams ? Why Pakistan placed in fatf grey-list? Why nobody raises Kashmir issue in UN (not even China)? Why Pakistan could not hang Kulbhushan Jadhav till now even after it’s all powerful Pakistan military court said so?
    Why can’t be India’s “Pakistan policy” continued to be simply ignoring the Pakistan?
    Why can’t be India’s “Pakistan policy” continued to be HOT LOC , very high retaliation for terrorist stick and installingIisrael border fencing system throughout the border?
    Do you think Pakistan will not divert the Taliban jihadis to India after the US-Taliban piece process complied like last time Pakistan did after US & USSR withdraw from Afghanistan?.

  3. The basic premise of the article is incorrect. India hasn’t lost any diplomatic battles. In fact, what Pakistan wants is the appearance of negotiation to change the perception that they are not the breeding ground for terrorists. Ultimately, what this author is selling the same old idea – negotiate. If Pakistan wants negotiations, let them do something irreversible like turning over Dawood Ibrahim and the D-Company. That will send a message to the world that they are indeed changing. Words are cheap. How many Kargils, Pathankots, Balakots, Mumbai bomb blasts, Mumbai terror attacks will it take for Shivam Vij to learn?

  4. Making Pakistan go bankrupt by making it increase its defense expenditure is the best way. Keep the LOC hot using artillery and other methods forcing Pakistan to retaliate and go bankrupt in the process. Diplomacy is done from a position of strength. Talks are important but the timing is more. Also talk to whom, Imran Khan or the Pakistani military or the Jihadis? Who is controlling whom? or does the author want to talk to all three together. Pakistan uses talks as a leverage to get more loans with International lenders which are then diverted to Jihadis who attack India.

    Keep the LOC hot and wait for Pakistan to burn itself out. THEN start talks

    • Exactly!
      Pakistan is on a cliff. A little push is all it will take for a free fall to start. First economically and then politically.
      We need to exhaust them in trying to match up militarily to India at LoC and otherwise. Talks are useless when our adversary aims at our disintegration, and uses talks only to bide time and build up strength only to fight us another day.

  5. Diplomacy need not be seen as war by other means. For a developing country – India and Pakistan are within a few hundred dollars of each other in per capita income – it can create an enabling, empowering environment for national resources and energy to be focused on economic development and the removal of mass poverty. The stubborn refusal to talk to Pakistan is not yielding anything of value. As the column realistically notes, resuming a dialogue may not achieve anything substantial in the near term. However, it would be good to drain the toxicity that has built up. Diplomacy with Pakistan and a political initiative with Kashmir should both be given a fair chance to succeed.

    • What’s the linkage between talks and per capita? Did Simla agreement lead to increase in per capita on both sides? Or did Pakistan stop supporting 26/11 culprits? Kuch bhi!!!!

    • By your logic, US should never have talked to North Korea as their per capita income are far apart!
      And by political initiative in kashmir do you mean accepting those who murder people in the name of freedom/religion, as the leaders and representatives of the valley??

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