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Why India must put any overtures to Pakistan on hold

By Vikram Sood
May 15, 2014 15:21 IST
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Given our troubled relationship with Pakistan, we need to keep our security apparatus in a state of alert with state-of-the-art equipment. All bilateral issues with Pakistan -- political, military, economic -- will simply have to go on the back-burner till Pakistan decides it wants to live as a good neighbour, says Vikram Sood.

Every change of government in New Delhi rekindles hope in the hearts of many that peace between India and Pakistan is about to break out. It is necessary to have a reality check on this. Successive Indian prime ministers have walked down this road, offering concessions to Pakistan, only to be disappointed.

Today Pakistan may play the injured innocent and claim that it is a victim of terrorism but the reality is that Pakistan is a victim of the policies of its leadership. Having invested so much in this policy of violent interference in its neighbourhood, having raised the rhetoric so high and despite having boxed above its weight all these years, the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment is unable to change the way it thinks much less make a U-turn in its policies towards India.

It is time we accept that Pakistan will not change its policies towards India and may even become worse as it Islamises and radicalises showing signs of becoming a Sharia state.

Since Pakistan will not change its attitude it is time we also thought of different approaches. So far, gestures have been interpreted to mean appeasement by the Pakistan deep state and a vindication of their confrontationist policy. Pakistan's DNA will not allow a change of policy, only a change of tactics. It will retain its terror option under a nuclear umbrella that today consists of 200 nuclear weapons all aimed at India and based on a close military and nuclear relationship with China.

Our policy towards Pakistan has been based on three misconceptions. One, the assumption that the civilian politicians favour a normal relationship with India but it is the army alone that is the impediment. Facts speak otherwise. It was then prime minister Zulfiqar Bhutto who said that Pakistan would make the Islamic bomb even if Pakistanis had to eat grass. It was Zulfiqar who dabbled with assisting the Islamic Afghans who had taken shelter in Pakistan having been pushed out by the Mohammad Daud Khan regime from Afghanistan.

It was his daughter, Benazir, who launched the Kashmir jihad and later propped up the Taliban. It was Nawaz Sharif who supported both the Taliban and anti-India groups, most of them fostered in Punjab, his stronghold.

Mumbai 1993 and later Kargil happened during Sharif's terms in office. Likewise, the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 happened during Asif Ali Zardari's presidency. There would be no significant change in the threats faced by us from Pakistan regardless of whether there was a dictator in command or an ostensibly civilian rule.

Two, if we engage Pakistan in a sustained dialogue and grant some concessions, this will strengthen the hands of Pakistan’s politicians and weaken the military’s stranglehold which is disliked by the people of Pakistan. Not quite so. Pakistanis may not be too fond of their generals as presidents but the military is seen as the only institution which is keeping the country together. Its political, economic and military’s role in Pakistan cannot be undermined or contained by any civilian dispensation.

The third flaw in this argument is the misplaced belief that we can bring about changes in the manner in which Pakistanis want to be governed. We do not have the ability to bring about political changes in Pakistan. It would be dangerous to tread into pastures where others have ventured and failed. Pakistan’s political process is an internal matter between its people and leadership.

The time has come for India to move away from its Pakistan-centric policy orientation. India and Pakistan hardly trade with each other, Pakistan will not give India transit to Afghanistan even though it stands to earn money, there are few tourists to each others' countries, Pakistan's hate India machinery is vocal and active, we never get to see each others' media except for those who surf on the Internet and they no longer tolerate Indian journalists on their soil. It will not surrender its terror option as a force equaliser and India has no cure for Pakistan's paranoia.

A foreign policy that uses hope as an instrument of policy overlooking essential national interests is bound to fail. The most important requirement for India in the next decade or at any other time, is rapid economic progress in the widest definition of the term. This will be the best guarantor for our security in the long run.

Since we cannot progress in isolation we need to engage other countries. Notable among them would be China for multiple reasons, Japan and South Korea for economic interests and Russia and Israel for both security and economic interests. Maybe early high-profile exchange of visits would set the trend.

Our relationship with China and Pakistan means we are a landlocked country to our north and west. We need to take the maritime route to Iran and through Iran to Afghanistan and to Southeast Asia.

Above all, the government needs to engage all our other immediate neighbours -- Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives in a sustained meaningful dialogue and provide economic assistance to these countries, in our own national interest and regain space that we might have lost in recent years.

Meanwhile, given our relationship with Pakistan, we need to keep our security apparatus in a state of alert with state-of-the-art equipment. All bilateral issues with Pakistan -- political, military, economic -- will simply have to go on the back-burner till Pakistan decides it wants to live as a good neighbour.

In our ordinary lives too it is not compulsory to have cordial relations with our neighbours; a nodding acquaintance and staying out each other's way is perfectly normal. So with nations.

Vikram Sood was former head of R&AW and is currently Adviser Observer Research Foundation New Delhi. He blogs at and can be followed on Twitter @VikramSood

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