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IDSA Pakistan Project Meeting, 19 July 2010

Discussion on India-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Talks on 16 July 2010

India should watch the changing situation and weigh its options vis-à-vis Pakistan

As part of the weekly Pakistan Project meeting at IDSA, there was a discussion on the recent Foreign Minister’s Talks between India and Pakistan in Islamabad on 16 July 2010. The reasons for the lack of success in the talks were analysed, and various options for engaging Pakistan were offered.

It was noted that due to lack of shared vision, interests and perception of each other’s concerns, it would have been difficult to reach any agreement on the issues bedevilling the relationship between the two countries. There was a broad agreement to continue the process of engagement with Pakistan to expand the constituency of peace in that country. However, it was felt that there was a need to devise new structures of engagement and, efforts should be made to bring the Army, the real power-centre in Pakistan, into the process of engagement. It was also pointed out that without army on board no amount of talks with the civilian government will ever be fruitful, especially in light of the highly pitiable and helpless state that the Pakistani political leadership finds itself in when compared to the Pakistan army and the right wing and radical elements.

There was a view that the current format did not offer enough scope for evolving creative solutions to complicated problems. It was suggested that the two governments may evolve mechanisms to discuss all issues in an unstructured and informal manner. In this context, in view of Shah Mehmood Quereshi’s statement that he would not visit India on ‘leisure trip’, there was a view that it would make lot more sense for the Pakistan’s foreign minister as also any other high dignitaries from Pakistan to come to India on ‘leisure trips’ or ‘excursions’ than merely to discuss business of state, if the purpose is to understand the Indian point of view on various issues.

Moreover, given the accident-prone nature of Indo-Pak engagement, the process of official dialogue should be carried out beyond the public glare and the government must evolve a better media management strategy to avoid a repetition of recent debacle. There should be greater focus on public diplomacy to convey the Indian position on various bilateral issues and define the redlines that India cannot cross and the non-negotiables from the Indian side. It is equally important that while articulating India’s approach to Pakistan, due care should be taken to avoid messages that mistakenly hint at India’s lack of options vis-a-vis Pakistan. This will be useful in changing the mindsets in Pakistan towards India.

It was argued that the pause in the dialogue process should be utilised to evaluate the evolving situation in Pakistan and the reactions to the talks. Some very big changes could be in the offing both in the regional situation as well as internally in Pakistan which could change the entire dynamics of India’s engagement with Pakistan. India would therefore be well advised to wait and watch the situation and weigh the various options that exist currently and those that could emerge with the changing situation.

Participants: N. S. Sisodia, Arvind Gupta, K. Ashok Behuria, Sushant Sareen, Smruti S. Pattanaik, P. K. Upadhyay, Medha Bisht