New Delhi: This might seem odd coming soon after Imran Khan’s swearing-in and the Navjot Singh Sidhu episode. But the deep engagement of the Pakistan army should no longer be dismissed by India. It might be unproductive from our present standpoint and perhaps even be counterproductive in giving a handle to the Pakistan army to ratchet up terrorism against India. Still, the enemy or the adversary is not fought better if he remains a complete stranger and unknown. In an indirect way the Pakistan army has been engaged with the engagement of Pakistan’s former military dictators, including Zia-ul Haq and Parvez Musharraf. Sidhu’s hug of the Pakistan army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has generated headlines. It is forgotten in the shrillness of competitive politics months before the general election that Atal Behari Vajpayee called Musharraf to a summit in Agra keeping in perspective that his interlocutor had initiated the Kargil War. The summit failed but Vajpayee undeniably made a deep impression on Musharraf to yield the future border ceasefire.

Deep engagement does not mean showy meetings with serving Pakistani generals. Nor should success be measured by how deeply and quickly the Pakistan army is converted to the cause of peace with India. It may never happen or happen at a glacial pace. But the very ambiguity of success should provide the challenge. A wall of silence with the Pakistan army (not counting the strictly tactical communications between the two forces) does not advance India’s regional politics. A situation has also been reached when it no longer makes sense to distinguish between the elected government of Pakistan and the Pakistan army. It is an open secret that Imran Khan is the army’s current favourite. It does not mean he is dishonourable and insincere in his social aims for Pakistan. The fact, however, remains that his powers are severely curtailed in the light of his predecessor. Nawaz Sharief’s frequent turf clashes with the army. By all means open a dialogue with Imran Khan at a propitious time. But remember his super-boss is the Pakistan army. He cannot move an inch towards India without the consent and clearance of the army. And it will have complete control of the road map should it get there.

All the same, the Pakistan army is scarcely monolithic. A section of the officer class may be Islamist but it does not rule out the presence of moderates, traditional conservatives who are not fanatics, outright modernists, pure professionals, and so forth. Deep engagement means studying, understanding and interacting with the army at all levels away from the limelight with access gained in a variety of ways which needn’t be spelled out. For example, General Bajwa is a professional soldier who takes a keen interest in Indian affairs. Obviously, he would not want to be seen as a dove on India, but he is a complex man, to say the least. Sidhu’s hug may or not publicly have damaged him but General Bajwa took a definite risk. God knows how the all-powerful corps commanders perceived the gesture of the chief. It serves, however, to strengthen the case for engaging the army.

Quietly the Indian military went about it in the past with its attaches. Indian military attaches of a bygone era conceivably were best informed about developments within the Pakistan army. The Pakistan covert services would generally incapacitate the RAW official as soon as he was posted but gave attaches a remarkable free run possibly on instructions from the Pakistan army, with invitations regularly received for visits to formations, even sensitive ones. With army to army relations having turned bitter of late, likely the attaches are no longer as productive in intelligence gathering as before, which is hardly a happy situation. But engaging the Pakistan army as a strategic concept goes much beyond the attache circuit. The attache experience at least of the past does suggest that there is enormous curiosity on the part of the Pakistan army about India and even a hesitant eagerness to engage. There is no need for India to be precipitous about engagement but the Pakistan army can no longer be kept out of the ever widening diplomatic loop.

Engaging the Pakistan army does not mean a fundamental change in India’s position on the Kashmir dispute. Engagement would most likely occur at a sub-political level so sovereign positions are hardly likely to be affected. But it would open windows of insight into the workings of the Pakistan army. For example, the Pakistan army chief is not all-powerful. Even he has to submit to the superiority of the college of corps commanders in critical strategic decisions affecting Pakistan. It ultimately reflects on us that we have such a shallow understanding of Pakistan that we consider its army to be monolithic. India has to do better.