New Delhi: The understanding from media reports after the Gurdaspur attack is this. The Narendra Modi government will remain in dialogue mode with Pakistan. But it will reserve the right to retaliate against terrorist violence at a place and time of its choosing. Provided the government has the will to enforce this policy, it sounds reasonable. It comes close to what was suggested by this writer less than two weeks ago.

The relevant paragraph from the 17 July 2015 commentary called “Go long” is this: “The key is to play long-term and move incrementally. No big-bang talks, no sharp summitry, no flash and dance, just the everyday solid diplomacy and total vigil on the border and Line of Control. Within the prescribed ceiling, the Indian Army and Border Security Force must be given freedom to counter Pakistani provocations. They know what to do. Diplomatic relations must be pegged at a level which cannot go lower without snapping ties altogether whilst permitting some engagement. The engagement must be closely monitored and carefully formulated and remain inflexible about India’s farthest goals.”

Even with this suggested new tactic, the India-Pakistan dynamic won’t change soon. But it will give India a diplomatic edge it has hitherto lacked.

The idea is to factor a minimum threshold of terrorist violence in the dialogue process with Pakistan. Pakistan is divided between the army and the political establishment. The division is not clear where each feeds on the other’s extremism. But generally the army is religiously more extreme than the elected government, which is also weak to enforce its will.

A dialogue with India is considered good for the political establishment. Why this is so is a separate story. But mainly, it satisfies Pakistan’s international patrons like the United States and China, which usually apply pressure in that direction. India is also the world’s largest democracy. Pakistan’s political leaders feel their democratic credentials burnished when engaged with India. It adds to their electoral standing.

The standard narrative is that the Pakistan army and the terrorists oppose dialogue with India. With the terrorists, this is certainly true. How far this is the case with the entire Pakistan army general staff is a subject of speculation. Contrary to thinking, armies don’t like war. If anything can be obtained by peaceful means, it is preferable. That is the mindset of the Indian Army and most world militaries. Proxy war may be attractive to the Pakistan army. But it would know the price if things go wrong.

Let us nevertheless take at face value the standard picture that the Pakistan army is as opposed to a dialogue with India as the terrorists. The political establishment, on the other hand, wants a dialogue at any cost. India has abandoned dialogue after a terrorist attack and then resumed it without the preconditions for resumption ever met.

This is meaningless. Dialogue for the sake of dialogue is as unproductive as stop-start engagement. What to do?

The Modi government’s new proposal addresses this problem. Its full impact may not yet be clear. But if it sets the following dynamic in motion, it would be money well spent. For every terrorist strike, India must retaliate disproportionately, and at a time and place of its choosing. It has been done before. But concurrently India must keep the engagement alive. After every adequate retaliation, India must not appear reluctant to talk, and indeed carry on with any scheduled diplomacy with perfect nonchalance.

In this situation, Pakistan’s political establishment cannot complain that India is hesitant to engage. Its foreign partners won’t hear of this excuse again. At the same time, the Pakistan army, wounded by Indian retaliation, cannot let the situation continue. It will pressure the Pakistani political establishment not to engage India. It will bring forth the differences between the two on India into the open. The United States, among others, won’t take kindly to the Pakistan army.

The boot effectively will be on the other foot. Thus far, the Pakistan army was said to pressure India to abandon talks through proxy terrorism. It provided the Pakistan political establishment a peaceable fig leaf. Now with India inclined to talk to the political establishment and punishing the Pakistan army and terrorists at the same time, Pakistan’s bluff will be called.

This is playing a variation of good and bad cop. It should be effective.