Vol. XLII No. 09 March 04, 2018

Reverse the “No Talks” Stance

THE Modi government’s policy towards Pakistan has reached a dead end. Having called off the dialogue with Pakistan in August 2015, the government has steadfastly maintained that there can be no talks till terrorism stops. The surgical strikes across the Line of Control in September 2016 were touted to be India’s firm response to cross border terrorism. The then defence minister Manohar Parrikar claimed that after continuous ceasefire violations for the past few years, this was the only befitting reply.

However, the aftermath of the surgical strikes show a steady increase in the shelling and firing across the Line of Control and the international border in Jammu and Kashmir. Since the ceasefire was put in place in November 2003, the year 2017 witnessed the highest number of violations so far. There were 860 incidents across the Line of Control and another 120 on the international border. The situation has worsened in the last three months – December 2017 and the first two months of 2018. There have been 400 violations in the first two months of this year. India has lost 16 soldiers in the shelling and firing while Pakistan is reported to have lost 23 soldiers.

The constant shelling and artillery fire have taken the lives of scores of civilians on both sides. On the Indian side thousands have had to be evacuated from their homes. In Uri sector, 2000 villagers have taken refuge in Uri town since February 22. Schools have been closed intermittently and livelihoods disrupted.

The surgical strikes have not stopped the attacks by extremists from across the border on army and BSF camps, the latest being the attack on the Sunjwan army camp in Jammu and the CRPF camp in Srinagar.

The Modi government’s one-dimensional view that all protests and separatist demands are Pakistan-inspired has prevented it from taking any serious step for a political dialogue within Jammu and Kashmir. Its purely security and militaristic approach has further worsened the situation in the valley.

It was in such a situation that the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti stated in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly that “dialogue with Pakistan is necessary if we are to end bloodshed.... we have to talk since war is no option.” This was immediately refuted by the BJP and the central government. Ram Madhav, general secretary of the BJP, retorted that terrorism and talks cannot go together.

By closing off all avenues for talks with Pakistan, the Modi government has painted itself into a corner. There has been no let up in the militant attacks within the valley and the ceasefire on the Line of Control is in tatters. The price being paid by the security forces and the civilian population, in terms of casualties, is escalating.

There is an urgent need to back off from this blinkered confrontationist stance. First of all, there should be talks to restore the ceasefire and peace on the Line of Control and the international border in Jammu and Kashmir. Confidence building measures must be initiated. This can be done along with the government making it clear that it will continue to take firm measures to check cross border infiltration of extremists.

Simultaneously, the government should initiate talks for the resumption of a comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan. Despite the “no talks” approach the national security advisers of the two countries have met in third countries. India has also invited the Pakistan commerce minister to participate in the informal WTO ministerial meeting in Delhi in the third week of March. This must be followed up with talks on how to restart the dialogue. Despite all its bluster and nationalistic posturing on Kashmir, the Modi government must realise that a dialogue with Pakistan is an essential part of arriving at a political settlement on the Jammu and Kashmir issue.

(February 28, 2018)