New Delhi: India cannot hope to get a more pragmatic political leader than president Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan. But if even he has to resort to cheap Kashmir theatrics in the UN General Assembly, the familiar Pakistani rant of September, then India can write off the chances of building a stable and sustainable peace process with Pakistan. At a minimum, Manmohan Singh should not be visiting that country anytime soon. And in the long-term, without gaining some leverage on Pakistan, India should not expect good neighbourliness from it, although leverage cannot guarantee peace either. Ask the Americans and the Chinese.

Pakistan's India problem is plain and simple sibling rivalry. Seeing India in its own image but doing so much better, it can only hate it. It tried Arabizing and failed. Stuck with its South Asian past, it cannot accept success next-door. If there had been no Jammu and Kashmir dispute, Pakistan would have invented one. Pakistan had no foundational vision except a manufactured need to become a homeland for British India's Muslims, and this proved exceptionally hollow and fraudulent after the separation of Bengali-speaking East Pakistan to become Bangladesh in 1971. India's breakaway point from the rest of the sub-continent when it became a regional power came with the 1974 nuclear test at Pokhran which sent Pakistan scurrying to replicate it. The second turning point was brought about by P.V.Narasimha Rao's opening up of the Indian economy in 1991, which put India on a high growth orbit. Left far behind, it has been Pakistan's aim to catch up with India, or impair its rise. The second of its aims has been most in evidence since the late 1980s when it commenced a low intensity war in J and K.

Pakistan has certain fixed ideas about India from which it cannot be swayed for any reason. After the creation of Bangladesh, it fears India's ultimate aim is to dismantle the rest of Pakistan. The Indian hand is perennially suspected in the Baluch rising, although the crisis is self-created by the Punjabi-Pakistan state. Pakistan also apprehends a second-front Indian attack from the Afghanistan side, which has made it so paranoid of Indian humanitarian and infrastructural assistance to the Afghans as to use its Taliban allies in terrorist strikes against Indian assets, including the Kabul high commission. And India's limited partnership with the United States has been exaggerated by Pakistan to the extent that it sees the Indo-US nuclear deal as a mechanism to permit India to wildly expand its nuclear weapons' inventory, a course of insanity it has itself embarked upon.

Pakistan believes it has found its silver bullet against India, which could be loosely called nuclear terrorism. Once it went nuclear two weeks after India in May 1998, it achieved military nuclear parity, a development which encouraged the Pakistan military to launch its Kargil adventure one year later, which was for all purposes a limited war under a nuclear overhang. That was followed by the attack on the Srinagar XV corps headquarters, the IC-814 hijack and the December 2001 Parliament assault, capped with the audacious strike from the sea on Bombay in 2008. Pakistan's deterrence prevents an Indian strike-back, and Pakistan is ready with battlefield nuclear weapons on the outside chance of an Indian “cold start” attack. In the midst of all this are ever-present threats of terrorists snatching weapons in transit or the leakage of fissile components by jihadi insiders in Pakistan's military and nuclear establishments.

Engaging Pakistan's political leadership in the background of these dangerous uncertainties makes sense, but not with an aim to produce breakthroughs in relationship, but to prevent matters from getting out of hand. Which is why the pattern of India's diplomatic engagement of Pakistan is flawed, since it leaves the Pakistanis with misplaced hopes. India cannot compromise on J and K or Siachen, but this is never clear in Indian diplomatic engagements, which is all about atmospherics and protocol and the cut of the foreign minister's suit. When Pakistanis break out of the mould of niceness and indulge in, among other things, the September attack in the United Nations, India is shocked, and forced to respond in kind. But why lead the Pakistanis up the garden path in the first place? Why not make it clear from start what is negotiable and what is not? And why should an Indian PM's visit to Pakistan be on the cards when Pakistan hasn't moved an inch to bring to justice the Bombay attack terrorists?

Pakistan should be engaged only to the extent that its capacity to harm is contained. There has never been sustained explorations on the Indian side to gain leverages against Pakistan, not trade and similar leverages (although they are important) but military ones. India's great forbearance in the face of Pakistani provocations has given Pakistanis the impression that India is a soft state. That must change. In the end, it is the failure of Indian diplomacy and statecraft to see J and K being raised at the UN. Pakistan must be contained with a whole new approach, and the government should get to work on this with speed. The operative word is containment, and any means to contain Pakistan must be embraced.