Indian Decade

Domino Effect

Indo-Pak talks follow a risky pattern, suggesting we need to proceed with caution.

India-Pakistan bilateral talks seem to follow a peculiar pattern of cause and effect, a sub-continental domino effect. Sample this—a theory based on the usual pattern for the near future:

Cause: India and Pakistan hold two more rounds of bilateral talks; first circa June 26 and then circa July 15.

Effect: India witnesses big terror attacks around these two dates.

This domino theory actually dominates the psyche of the Indian security establishment whenever the Indo-Pak diplomatic calendar is finalised. And as there's some method to this madness, the fears of the Indian strategic community are not entirely misplaced.

Take for example the bilateral talks held on February 25 at the Foreign Secretary level in New Delhi, when the two nuclear neighbors resumed dialogue after a gap of 15 months (since the November 2008 terror attacks derailed talks between them). Eleven days before the new talks, terrorists struck in a big way in Pune.

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Now Home Minister P Chidambaram is set to travel to Islamabad on June 26 for a SAARC conference where he's scheduled to meet his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik. Less than a month later, the Indo-Pak engagement will be upgraded when S M Krishna embarks on his maiden visit to Pakistan as foreign minister on July 15 during which he is expected to meet Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

An influential section of India’s Pakistan policymakers, as well as other watchers, believe that whenever the two countries attempt to converse, the wreckers come into play. The Indian establishment has openly talked about these wreckers and described them as ‘elements’ in Pakistan – likely a diplomatic euphemism for state actors and non-state actors.

Hawks here also give a long list in a bid to prove their point, that talking to Pakistan is not good for India. Remember the Manmohan Singh-Pervez Musharraf Havanna handshake (September 16, 2006) when the two leaders agreed to set up a good-for-nothing Joint Anti Terror Mechanism? Or the Sharm al Sheikh Joint Statement of July 18, 2009 which the Singh government had to quickly bury following opposition clamor?

I am not among those who believe no-talks-with-Pakistan is the right policy. Playing footsie with Pakistan for the sake of playing does not help. Instead, India should have a calibrated approach based on concrete, visible deliverables from the other side before taking the next step. These are not the times when New Delhi can draw up the entire diplomatic calendar for the next few months in the context of Pakistan. Therefore, it will be a good policy to take one step forward, evaluate the response and then take another step forward. Or backward.