12/10/2015 8:11 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Why India Needs To Change Its Terms Of Engagement With Pakistan

PRAKASH SINGH via Getty Images
An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) ceremonial guard blows a bugle during a reception for Pakistan Rangers Director General (Punjab) Major General Umar Farooq Burki prior to a meeting at the BSF headquarters in New Delhi on September 10, 2015. Members of the Pakistan Rangers are in India for talks with the Border Security Force, scheduled to take place between September 10-13. AFP PHOTO/PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

The 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly ended up throwing the spotlight on the India-Pakistan stalemate yet again. Even as the world grapples with issues ranging from war, a refugee crisis and huge economic deficits all over, the two neighbours, India and Pakistan, continue on the same path of bickering, posturing and strife since their inception in 1947. That is a good 68 years: almost as old as the present session of the UN. Yet, there seems to be no end in sight for the status quo.

While Pakistan tends to fixate on Kashmir and outlines various demands, India usually keeps the focus on terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil. This time it was no different. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the Kashmir issue as well as a four point formula for a long-term solution. His speech also focused on the abysmal human rights conditions in the Valley and that India should be willing to work on ending the impasse between the two countries. This is the same stock argument and rhetoric that has characterised all engagements between India and Pakistan over the last couple of years.

"It's up to India to finally make a move and end the stalemate."

As expected, India responded assertively, with External Affair Minister Sushma Swaraj stating that India would be ready to talk when Pakistan was ready to "give up terrorism". Previously too, Prime Minister Modi made it clear that as far as Kashmir is concerned India will need to have certain conditions met, which together make it clear that Pakistan cannot call the shots with Kashmir as the core issue. Next, even though the heads of these two countries stayed in the same hotel and met at the same fora, there was no effort from either side to hold a bilateral meeting which is an indicator that all is not hunky dory between the two countries diplomatically since the Foreign Secretary talks were called off in August. This also is a reminder that as far as relations between India and Pakistan are concerned even the most assured and neutral of fora, like the UN, are not conducive enough to untie the Gordian knot. The point by point reply to Sharif's speech at the assembly India demonstrated an observable shift towards its Kashmir policy. On the accusation of occupation, India pointed out the dismal condition of people in Pakistan-occupied/Azad Kashmir, indicating also that Pakistan should vacate Kashmir.

However, India's changing tone on Kashmir or any other issue does not signify that Pakistan will give up on its policies or bend backwards to accommodate what India demands. Especially when they have always considered Kashmir the core issue. In face of that what options does India have to work with? India not engaging in talks with Pakistan affects them less than it affects us, given that it foments more separatist feelings in the already troubled Valley and gives leeway to the separatist leadership that India considers irrelevant. It also catalyses Pakistan to internationalise the issue as and when possible.

It's also important to consider that India's ties with Afghanistan are a sensitive issue for Pakistan. Increasing violence there signals that Pakistan will not give up on its strategic depth policy and the clout it has with the Taliban leadership. In this scenario India loses out economically because vast amounts of investment and capacity building in Afghanistan would lie in shambles if this continues. This will of course affect the population there and subsequently the relations with India.

Pakistan's ties with China also need consideration in the overall evaluation of loss and gain. India's aspiration to be a permanent member of the UNSC has been vetoed by China at every instance. Additionally, Chinese presence in Gilgit Baltistan has an effect on India's counter on Pakistan administering its part of Kashmir because it legitimises Pakistan's claim on the territory when it cedes part of it to China, for example the case of Shaksgam Valley.

Taking all this into account, the rational step for India would be to start a dialogue without pre- conditions because if you look at the larger picture the balance does tilt away from India in the long run. This will also enhance India's stature internationally especially where a seat in UNSC is considered. Pakistan's position as a rogue state is beyond redemption and it has nothing left to lose anymore as its growing internal instability proves. It's up to India to finally make a move and end the stalemate.

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