No point in derailing talks with Pak
The Gurdaspur terror attack on Monday has once again brought the focus back on the threats to India’s internal and external security. The fact that terrorists from across the border entered Punjab in broad daylight and killed innocent civilians and police personnel is a wake-up call to India’s intelligence network as well as its police force.
What is of concern is that Punjab, which witnessed serious bloodshed in the eighties, remains vulnerable to terror. Monday’s incident becomes a matter of grave concern as such a terror attack occurred in the state after almost eight years. Till now, terrorists have targeted only Jammu and Kashmir. This expansion of terror has to be tackled immediately by security forces and Indian intelligence agencies.
The terror attack has its own foreign policy and domestic repercussions. On the foreign policy front, it poses a challenge to the normalization efforts presently under way between India and Pakistan. Ever since Narendra Modi assumed the august office of Prime Minister, his foreign policy initiatives towards Pakistan have witnessed a roller coast ride. From inviting Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony a year ago to the terror attack in Gurdaspur, it has been a rollercoaster ride.
Will this terror attack derail India’s Pakistan policy? All indications are that in spite of the provocation, talks with Pakistan are set to resume. At the same time the government has also not given up the option of retaliation on terror attacks. On July 16, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar had described the retaliation by Indian forces against firing from the Pakistani side in the Jammu sector, calling it “reasonable but firm”.
At the most, the National Security Adviser level talks might be deferred by a few weeks since no dates have been finalised yet. The government has been quite cautious in dealing with the situation to avoid any sort of knee-jerk reaction. Although some TV channels have been screaming that Pakistan should be taught a lesson, it appears that the government is still collecting evidence and therefore not in a hurry to pass any hasty statement.
Secondly, the efforts for a resumption of dialogue started after the United States President Obama’s “chai per <g data-gr-id="107">charcha</g>” in New Delhi when he arrived as chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations in January. Things have started to move ever since and the Ufa meeting in Russia recently was also part of that effort. Therefore, it is too early to say that the engagement with Pakistan might be abandoned.
Thirdly, Modi’s foreign policy is also likely to be driven by trade and commerce. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, he reached out to a number of countries including China. He also had interactions with business delegations from Karachi. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is a mature politician and an ally of the BJP both in Punjab and also at the Centre. Badal has been stressing for opening more trade routes between Punjab and Pakistan and so did his predecessor the Congress Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh. The Punjab government and chambers of commerce have been lobbying for opening up the Hussainiwala-Kasur land route for trade, in addition to the Wagah-Attari border. So there is a bipartisan view on economic relations with Pakistan in the state. This terror attack may not change this attitude.
Similarly, in Jammu and Kashmir, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is for opening up more routes and trade relations with Pakistan. Rajasthan has been demanding to open the Munabao-Khokhrapar land route for trade while Gujarat has been urging the Centre to open land routes for trade with Sindh. Fortunately for Modi, he has NDA chief ministers presiding Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan and, therefore, any policy implementation by the Centre will not face any difficulties. Modi has been talking of a “neighbours first” policy. Such a neighborhood policy puts stress on connectivity, contacts and cooperation.
Above all, as former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill had remarked during a conference organised by US-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) some time ago, “Every Indian prime minister, since the attack on the parliament in Delhi 15 years ago, has seriously considered a military response to such incidents but stepped back.” In the past one year, Modi has been trying to demonstrate that he is neither the bully some critics believe him to be nor the foreign policy weakling.
On the domestic side, the first signal came from Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal who made a significant remark that the border fencing was the job of the Centre. He said, “The terrorists didn’t come from Punjab, they come from the border. If there was an input then it was their (MHA) job to seal the border. If there was input why wasn’t the border sealed?”
Another NDA ally, the Shiv Sena has always been anti-Pakistan and is opposed to India having talks with the neighbor. The Sena does not hesitate to oppose some of the BJP policies openly, thus creating an embarrassing situation. After the Monday terror attack in Gurdaspur, several activists of the Shiv <g data-gr-id="106">sena</g> burnt the Pakistani flag in Phagwara to protest against the “Pak-sponsored” terror attack.
Many observers are of the view that the resumption of dialogue should not be given up and engagement is the best way to deal with Pakistan. This can be done only when there is a civilian government and South Block should move forward cautiously. At the same time, New Delhi also should send a signal that terror strikes will be dealt with equal force.