A wider dialogue

DGMOs meet after 14 years, but India should be looking to broaden the exchange with Pakistan.

The meeting between the Indian director-general of military operations (DGMO) and his Pakistani counterpart at the Wagah-Attari border crossing on Tuesday took place after 14 years. The last time the DGMOs met was in 1999, after the Kargil War. But the exchange between Lt General Vinod Bhatia and Major General Aamer Riaz was significant for two more reasons. For one, though the DGMOs have been talking almost every week over the hotline, a face-to-face exchange of views was necessary, given the volatile Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border (IB) in Kashmir. Infiltration bids and cross-border raids have drilled holes in the ceasefire that had largely held since 2003 and severely constricted the bilateral room for manoeuvre necessary for normalising ties. The DGMOs' agreement on maintaining the ceasefire is encouraging. Two, this DGMOs' meet was decided at the highest political level by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.

India has resisted Pakistan's suggestion that the DGMOs' meet also include civilian diplomats, insisting that the LoC and IB violations are a military matter. But dialogue has a greater chance of success when the parties to it take their eyes off the textbook, and nowhere is the need to think out of the box more imperative than in India-Pakistan relations. Pakistan's military has a new leader and the Nawaz Sharif government has reiterated its willingness to pursue dialogue with India. Under the circumstances, Delhi should be looking to enlarge the bilateral engagement, not insisting that it remain narrowly circumscribed and technical.

Manmohan Singh has invested a lot of political capital in a peaceful equilibrium with Pakistan. Despite the recent setbacks, India cannot afford to forego or reduce the scope of a running dialogue with Pakistan's political establishment. Even as India gears up for general elections over the next few months which will tend to constrict the government's options vis-a-vis Pakistan it must be acknowledged that the next government will have to engage with the same process. Delhi, therefore, needs to broaden its outreach across the western border and multiply the nodes of dialogue beyond the inter-military hotline.

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