A GRIM year in Pakistan-India relations appears to have ended on a somewhat positive note with a meeting in Bangkok between Pakistan National Security Adviser retired Gen Nasser Janjua and Indian NSA Ajit Doval. While it is not clear how much influence the Pakistani NSA has on Pakistan’s India policy or national security policy generally, Mr Doval is a powerful figure in the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is perhaps Mr Modi’s foremost adviser on Pakistan. So the meeting in Bangkok was not insignificant.

However, with the meeting conducted in secrecy, and neither country having made an official comment as yet, it is difficult to discern whether any kind of breakthrough on any issue was achieved.

Presumably, the meeting had a specific agenda that was decided in advance, and Kashmir is likely to have featured heavily in the talks. If the violence along the Line of Control can be quelled and Pakistan and India take up unexpected confidence-building measures on the Kashmir issue, a window of opportunity for a wider dialogue may again open.

Yet, the inconsistency of India’s policy towards Pakistan is striking. The Modi government has veered from aggressively maligning Pakistan and deploying anti-Pakistan rhetoric for domestic political purposes to occasionally permitting unexpected and somewhat positive gestures.

The Christmas Day stopover in Pakistan two years ago by Mr Modi was an example of the positive risks a powerful Indian prime minister could take, but it is unlikely to be repeated. Indeed, a meeting on the sidelines of a multilateral summit between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan is probably the most that can be expected at the prime ministerial level of direct engagement anytime soon.

Perhaps Mr Modi and his national security and foreign policy teams should reflect on why even they have found it necessary to keep a door to dialogue open with Pakistan. There is simply no alternative; geographical and security realities mean that India and Pakistan will always have a number of reasons to speak to one another, no matter how hawkish a government there is in New Delhi. Foreign policy and national security cannot be totally subjugated to domestic politics.

For Pakistan, the challenge remains the same: managing what is likely to remain a hostile relationship with India while reassessing a national security strategy for the long-term benefit of Pakistan itself.

The dangerous outcome for Pakistan would be if it allowed hostility emanating from India to distort the fight against militancy and extremism domestically. While nationalist impulses are always likely to be stoked by Indian belligerence, the Pakistani state should not allow itself to become distracted from what ought to be the top-most national priority — continuing the long fight against militancy and extremism.

Where India seeks to engage Pakistan, Pakistan should engage with India, and forthrightly express its concerns about India’s actions and posturing.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2018



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