New Delhi: The aborted NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan point to one thing. Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif are in agreement where India-Pakistan relations ought to be headed. The Ufa understanding is about this. But Nawaz Sharif is unable to take along the Pakistani “deep state” comprising the army and ISI which ceaselessly radicalizes establishment opinion against India and poisons society into terrorism in its territories. Is there a way to break through this monstrous impasse? Yes. It is by doing more of what Prime Minister Modi is doing.

This has been written before but needs reiteration to put things in perspective. Modi is following two tracks on Pakistan simultaneously. The Pakistan army’s ceasefire violations are being countered with welcome disproportion. Pakistan’s terrorism is also being proactively challenged. The technical intelligence on the anti-India terrorists that Pakistan harbours like Dawood Ibrahim, Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed and so forth has also been strengthened. Where this will lead to is best left unaddressed. Suffice it to say that India is slowly getting on top of the situation. All this action is well under the nuclear threshold. Nuclear scaremongers in Pakistan (official) and India (pretender strategists) are just that: scaremongers.

On another level, Prime Minister Modi is engaging the elected Pakistan government in terms of friendship and equality. The message is clear and resonant. The Pakistan army has an illegitimate role handling Pakistan’s foreign policy related to India. No legitimacy can be provided by engaging it at the cost of the elected Pakistan government. The sad and terrible exception was the 2001 Agra Summit with Pakistan’s then dictator, Parvez Musharraf, who was as hamstrung by the Pakistani deep state as Nawaz Sharif now but sought to cover up with bluster and chutzpah. India-Pakistan relations have a future only when democracy strengthens in the neighbouring country and the army loses its primacy in policy matters concerning India. This will not happen anytime soon. But this is essential and imperative to long-term peace in the region. And Modi’s two-track policy is the best way to attain this.

The thing to understand about Prime Minister Modi is this. He is a purist when it comes to political and policy matters. He is hidebound about state institutions and traditions. This is already to be seen in some areas of domestic politics but it is making its international impact as well. India’s tough position on food security in the WTO because of its direct effect on India’s poor is one of the red lines Modi’s government drew early in its life. When it comes to India’s core interests, Modi will shed his famed pragmatism and become inflexible. A similar attitude informs the rejection of third-party role in India-Pakistan engagements. This policy is more than forty years old and scarcely new to the region. India and China follow the same policy in regard to their border differences. India’s ties with all its South Asian neighbours are strictly based on the principle of bilateralism. Why should Pakistan expect to be treated differently? Would it appreciate Afghanistan bringing a foreign mediator for the disputed Durand Line or the Pakistani Pashtuns clamorous to rejoin the Afghan motherland as third party?

Finally, there is no reason to despair that the NSA talks fell through. The talks’ agenda was terrorism and it was the basis established at Ufa to take the engagement process forward. Pakistan unilaterally breached the Ufa protocol. It will come around. It has to. Twice Pakistan has been rebuffed in its attempts to make the Hurriyat a party to the talks. It will be rebuffed a third and a fourth time by when it will no longer be considered a serious interlocutor for peace. The more water flows down the Indus, so to speak, the more difficult it will become for Nawaz Sharief to re-engage India. Prime Minister Modi has set fair terms for engagement, and Nawaz Sharif should have the sagacity to grab it.

India is on the move. Its political economy is one of the most happening places in the world. China, to the contrary, has peaked and in decline. The Chinese are completely transactional in their relations. Intelligent Pakistanis have seen through China’s exploitation of Pakistan on account of its testy relations with India. The sooner this unhappy situation is recognized by the Pakistani establishment and the deep state, the better for recovery and peace in the region. Modi is also propelling India’s relations with the West and is slowly but surely expanding its footprint in the Middle East, whose oil-rich states treat Pakistan as a lowly, supplicant nation. The rapidly improving relations between Iran and the West will further depreciate Pakistan’s geo-strategic position. Pakistan is playing a losing game in Afghanistan as well. Its quest for strategic depth there has brought it only ruin and misery and put vast territories in the west and north-west and even enclaves in Punjab and Sind beyond the writ of the state. How much more will Pakistan bleed before it recognizes its mortal wounds? This is how states break up and die.

Pakistan’s rivalry with India has destroyed it. If it is the only thing he can do, Nawaz Sharif should have Pakistan accept the present borders and move on. It will save what remains. History is unforgiving to militaristic states.