The politics of talking to our neighbor.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited Pakistan’s prime minister Gilani and president Zardari to attend the cricket World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan in Mohali. Mr. Gilani has accepted the invitation while we’re waiting to hear from Mr. Zardari. In the past, cricket diplomacy has been afforded to the likes of Gen. Zia-ul-haq and Gen. Musharraf. This time around, the extension of invitations will result in two tickets being granted gratis to individuals who neither craft nor implement Pakistan’s foreign policy, instead of our own VVIPs, who are accustomed to not paying for anything anyway.
They say there is momentum towards a resumption of talks between India and Pakistan. Mr. Singh and Mr. Gilani met on the sidelines of the NAM summits in Bhutan and (infamously) at Sharm el-Sheikh. Talks between India and Pakistan have also taken place in Lahore and New Delhi in the recent past. Times of India’s diplomatic editor, Indrani Bagchi informs in her column that New Delhi was also keen to open channels of communication with the Pakistan army and its ISI (recall that DG-ISI Lt. Gen. Pasha had a tete-a-tete with India’s envoy to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal at an iftaar dinner in 2009).
Not talking to someone is more a momentary tactic and less a strategy. If the Government of India has decided to seriously engage not just the civilian administration in Pakistan, but also its military overlords in talks, then fine, but what is the end game? In India, our leaders have repeatedly articulated that they are “not willing to give up on Pakistan.” As if not giving up on Pakistan is a virtue!
Lest we forget, there is the more immediate matter of Pakistan prosecuting its citizens involved in the heinous terrorist attacks against India on 26/11. It has been 2 ½ years since 200 innocent Indian citizens were killed in a state-sponsored project executed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and members of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex. Not only has LeT’s leader gone unpunished, he is also being invited to give speeches at that venerable bastion of justice, the Lahore High Court!
To be sure, the pursuit of peace between India and Pakistan (or indeed between any two nations) is always desirable. However, in India we are victims of our own unattainable quest for morality in international relations above all else. Our leadership has always taken pride in suggesting that if Pakistan takes minor, but tangible steps in addressing our concerns, that we would be “willing to go more than half the distance” in resolving our disputes with our neighbor. But why?
In the anarchic world of international relations, abstract terms such as morality have no place. States promote their national interests by exercising their relative power, both in times of war and peace. If it is in India’s interests to talk to Pakistan, then negotiations must be dictated from positions of relative power. Magnanimity has no place in international relations. As the greater power, India must expect settlements to be more favorable to its interests, not the other way around. To quote India’s former intelligence chief and senior fellow at Takshashila, Vikram Sood, “magnanimity is a function of victory; otherwise it is appeasement.”
Prime Minister Singh is right in pursuing talks with Pakistan, but he would be wrong to believe that India’s growth and prosperity were contingent on making peace with that country. If India and Pakistan can, by some remote possibility, reconcile their differences and live in peace with one another, then fine. If they can’t, that should also be okay for us as well. Prime Minister Singh will always be favorably remembered in India’s history books for loosening the shackles of our License Raj. He should remain invested in bringing 400 million of our citizens out of poverty. India’s growth and development cannot be held hostage to anyone’s grand visions of orchestrating peace with countries that seek nothing but our dismemberment.