The debate about what New Delhi should do next with Islamabad has become completely polarized, with both sides equally misguided.
Those who are intent on continuing the frayed peace process argue vociferously that regardless of Pakistan's actions along the Line of Control (the de facto international border in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir sometimes referred to as the LoC) last week, India can ill-afford to call it off. They contend that terminating the dialogue would play into the hands of the Pakistani military establishment and the Jihadists, neither of whom are entirely well disposed toward it. Furthermore, they argue that it is vitally important to keep Pakistan engaged to strengthen the liberal elements of its civil society.
Indian hawks, on the other hand, many of whom would be deemed to be "chicken hawks" in the American political context, insist that only swift, firm and decisive retaliation will send a dissuasive message to Islamabad.
Both arguments are flawed for a number of compelling reasons.
Those calling for continuing the dialogue do not seem to recognize that the benefits of the dialogue have been few and far between. Yes, a cease-fire of sorts was maintained over the past several years along the LoC, a more liberal visa regime was put in place late last year and Pakistan has continued to hold out the prospect of granting India Most Favored Nation (MFN) status. If these constitute the fruits of a nearly decade long peace process it must be conceded that the flame is not worth the candle. Far too much effort has been expended in attempts to assuage the concerns of a genuinely fractious and recalcitrant neighbor for very little recompense.
On the other hand those who seek harsh retaliatory measures have not done their homework either. If India launches such an attack the Pakistani military establishment will not stand by idly. In the face of such an attack Islamabad’s diplomatic corps will come out in full force and harangue India at every international forum. Already Hina Rabbani Khar, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, has publicly accused India of "war mongering." Imagine how much more heated the rhetoric will be in the event of an Indian military response.
Under these circumstances India needs to forge a wholly different strategy to deal with Pakistan. Until the day the Pakistani security establishment chooses to eschew its reliance on the use of terror as an instrument of policy India should place dialogue on the backburner, instead bolstering its military capabilities both along the international border and the LoC and concentrate on putting its domestic house in order. On the internal front it should promote economic growth, work to increase equity and address existing social cleavages. If it can successfully tackle these external and internal tasks, even though Islamabad will have nuisance value, it will be unable to fundamentally affect India’s course. The current debate in India, though heated, is mostly pointless.
Sumit Ganguly is the Director of the Center on American and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington and is a Senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.