Time for India to start talking to Pakistan?
It has been more than a year since the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai and many commentators have been advocating restarting the peace process between India and Pakistan.
Is the time ripe?
The process that seemed to have restarted with Sharm-al-Sheikh statement stalled after the outcry in India over the statement’s drafting and the subsequent revelations about David Headley.
But a major development since has been Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan which involves a troop surge and announcement of a tentative withdrawal date around July 2011.
This has prompted some commentators to stress the fact that Pakistan will continue as a challenge for India much after the U.S. recalibrates its involvement in the region.
The argument roughly is that India needs to strengthen the moderate elements in Pakistan like its civilian government over hawkish elements like the ISI or the army who survive by scaremongering over India.
The argument for restarting the ‘peace process’ with Pakistan is hitched to an ideal picture: “Nothing will serve our interests better than a stable, prospering, democratic Pakistan, at peace with itself, looking inwards, and focusing its energies on its own growth and competing with us economically” as one commentator puts it.
The catch though is that the civilian Pakistani government talks in different voices.
President Asif Ali Zardari, perceived as a moderate, adopted a hawkish stance on India last week, calling Kashmir the “jugular vein” of Pakistan.
The argument for resuming the peace process assumes that India will be able to affect the outcome of internal dissension in Pakistan and by not doing anything it is playing into the hands of the extremist forces in the region.
Another commentator, even while calling for talks, writes it has to be assumed there will be another terrorist attack on India and Pakistan will continue to be turbulent.
This means that peace process or not, when it comes to guaranteeing the safety of Indians in India, we are on our own and won’t get much help from Pakistan.
The only thing India has a measure of control over is its internal security arrangements to prevent or mitigate another attack so that such events do not dictate terms on our foreign policy.
If the fate of India-Pakistan relations lies more with the home ministry than the ministry of external affairs, then is it too soon to start talking, too late or it doesn’t matter?