New Delhi: There is disquiet over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to Pakistan. There is the meeting of NSAs from both sides on Sunday. It does not have the fullness of a dialogue which comes when ministers meet but it still constitutes talking. For someone who was so hardnosed in his approach to Pakistan, there is a feeling that Modi has softened.

Yashwant Sinha has unrequited ambitions to feel peeved with the prime minister. But when he says India and Pakistan are engaged in a “dialogue of the deaf”, you cannot but take notice. Is that description apt? Or does the conference of NSAs represent a step forward; a certain reordering of protocol? The second perception seems closer to the truth.

People evolve. It is scarcely logical to expect the prime minister to be the Modi of two years ago or even 15 months. It is a vastly different world outside the prime minister’s office and within. Modi may not have changed in the core things; he doesn’t seem to have. But to get what he wants, he may drop one option and choose another. It is a question of what works. The means may be altered if the ends remain constant. That is how it looks with Modi’s reengagement of Pakistan.

The earlier engagement was on one track. The government invested everything in political negotiations and dialogue. If they failed, the whole process of engaging Pakistan collapsed. It resembled a highly volatile stock market situation. The collapse was followed by months of high border tensions and ceasefire violations by Pakistan. Inevitably at some international meeting, the Indian and Pakistani sides met, and there were renewed attempts to restart talks. This hopeless cycle seemed destined to go on and on.

Except that Modi has broken it in a way that is not readily apparent. He has separated the talks from security measures against Pakistani terrorism and ceasefire violations. The security and armed forces have been given the tactical autonomy to react in graduated disproportion to Pakistan’s aggressions. In consequence, ceasefire violations are being robustly countered. And the Indian side has become proactive in containing terrorist infiltrations. The defensive psyche has gone.

This change has been incorporated in the new engagement process with Pakistan. It has meant abandoning the rigid position of no talks till Pakistan gives up the state policy of terrorism. Pakistan will not abandon terrorism for talks. It has to be strenuously nudged in that direction. This is what Modi is attempting. Modi is using limited military levers to prod Pakistan into talks. This has not been explicitly stated by the government nor will be. But if you read between the lines, it is altogether evident.

Before Yashwant Sinha rushes to the studios with his comments, he should pause to consult his own government to what it is doing. A. B. Vajpayee made the first great outreach to Pakistan. It failed. Does it mean India should give up on Pakistan; have no policy with regard to it? India can choose to let Pakistan stew in its juice. That is a policy decision. It may or not work. Modi has alighted on another which, in his estimation, will work. This writer also thinks so.

In earlier engagements, the Pakistan army was a manipulator and spoiler. It raised the levels of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere and intensified ceasefire violations to pressure India to talks to its advantage. It has not given up on this line of action. But India has vigorously countered this. The Pakistan military can no longer strong-arm India. Nor can it impede the Pakistan government very much from talking to India without exposing itself.

The process is far from neat. Pakistan is straining at the leash. The Pakistan NSA has reiterated moral support for the Kashmir cause. The Hurriyat has been called for consultations prior to the talks. These are provocations and Pakistan doesn’t know better. They have to be tolerated because India is working to a plan.

This has happened after a long time. The plan has a potential to succeed. Success does not mean Pakistan will lose. It will understand the hard way that much more is gained by being a good neighbour.