Indian Decade

Dialogue of the Deaf

What can India can do to beat terrorism? None of the options with Pakistan look appealing.

After the hurly-burly of talks between the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries in New Delhi on February 25–a dialogue of the deaf, sceptics might say–one is left wondering: what next? And what are the options for India in addressing the terrorist threat it faces, apart from talks with Pakistan?

Crudely put, India has at least three options in dealing with terrorist threats: (i) to go for targeted non-military covert options, (ii) launch swift surgical strikes against terror camps and locations, or (iii) total military engagement–an all-out war. Yet all these, in my considered opinion, are a perfect recipe for disaster.

The non-military, covert option can’t yield the desired targets because the nature of these targets is temporary and mobile. Moreover, swift surgical strikes will not remain limited—they will quickly flare-up into a full-scale war. So these options have to be ruled out. The military option should be exercised by a state only when its territorial unity and integrity is under threat. And India is not facing any such threat. The diplomatic interactions under the Composite Dialogue process have not been exhausted fully, even though this process started way back in May 1997 during the Prime Ministerial tenure of I K Gujral. It has not been given its full run.

As for the Pakistanis, they certainly could have done better diplomatically. It was not a good sight to see Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir grandstanding before the media in New Delhi, talk which might have been aimed at Pakistan’s domestic constituency. But India should be big-hearted and broad-minded in giving Islamabad leeway, even though the timing of Bashir’s remarks was not right, especially as he had just heard the Indians describing two serving military officers of Pakistan as terrorists.

This was the first India-Pakistan diplomatic with such brutal frankness from the Indians and so Bashir going ‘ballistic’ during his 90-minute press conference at the Pakistan High Commission needs to be seen from this perspective.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

From Pakistan’s point of view, if the February 25 talks had succeeded, which was anyway unlikely, Pakistan would have been under immense pressure to remove a large chunk of its military force from its eastern border with India. This is a red rag for Islamabad and the Pakistani establishment has always been wary of such a scenario. Even during the best of times when India and Pakistan under General Musharraf were talking honey and sugar to each other, especially from 2005 to 2008, Pakistan did not prune its military deployment along its eastern borders with India.