All fall down

The government cracks under pressure again, putting dialogue with Pakistan at risk

For the second time this year, the UPA appears to have betrayed its commitment to talks with Pakistan. In the last two days, Defence Minister A.K. Antony has embodied the contradictions within his party and government. His statement on the Pakistani ambush in which five Indian soldiers were killed pointedly referred to terrorists. With the opposition accusing him of shielding Pakistan, the minister has now called them "specialist troops". While Antony may have been trying to ensure that emotions around this incident do not affect the dialogue with Pakistan, a project the prime minister is personally invested in, his subsequent retraction suggests that few in the party or government have the backbone to see it through. It seems easier to express theatrical horror and threaten dire consequences, than to separate the dialogue between nations from individual incidents on the LoC. Pakistan's embattled PM, Nawaz Sharif, however, has underlined the necessity of a more forward-looking view. While expressing sadness at the events, he has focused on the need to strengthen existing political and military mechanisms to address such incidents and ensure that tensions do not swamp the dialogue.

There are intermittent provocations on the border, but these have been considered matters for militaries to settle. They have not been made to impinge on the dialogue with Pakistan, the maintenance of which is in India's own interest. There are many matters on which India expects the Nawaz Sharif government to act cooperation on 26/11, a clampdown on infiltration, greater trading incentives. Pakistan's civilian government is only one axis of authority, and the actions of its army and other factions cannot be fully controlled. But giving vent to aggression will only hurt at a juncture when the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is set to unleash a period of instability. While the Manmohan Singh government knows the importance of engaging Pakistan, the PM's gestures have been undercut by a nervous party, since Sharm el-Sheikh, and Singh himself has not shown the will to resist.

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