New Delhi: Maintaining a sullen silence with Pakistan is not exactly helpful. A policy of no-talks-till-terror-ends is not a policy at all but pigheadedness. Talks do not mean capitulation, signing away Kashmir, etc. Talks are also conducted without interruption to keep communication lines open, assess the strengths and weaknesses of the other side, explore opportunities, and sustain the pressure on the adversary to reform. Success is by no means immediately guaranteed. But success without talks is unheard of unless external factors like a major power intervention or a war victory alter circumstances. External factors count for little in India-Pakistan relations. Since India is opposed to third party mediation, the only major power capable of mediating between India and Pakistan, the United States, has given up on that score. It has by and large accepted India’s position that India-Pakistan disputes could only have a bilateral resolution. But if there are no talks, what bilateral resolution are we speaking of? The last option is a decisive war between India and Pakistan. Thankfully, that is not going to happen. Nuclear powers do not fight one another.

The latest instance of Indian obduracy comes with a rather bold and unexpected statement made in the Pakistan National Assembly by Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Qureshi is quoted by the Pakistan media to have said, “Prime Minister Imran Khan had said that peace could not be established in Afghanistan through military power. Today, the US, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Taliban also [want] a solution through dialogue... Some meetings have taken place [among key stake holders] for establishment of peace in Afghanistan. India also has stakes in Afghanistan, and its cooperation will also be needed.”

Path-breaking as Qureshi’s statement is, India has chosen to react negatively to it. The predominant sentiment is that Pakistan cannot be trusted and that Pakistan’s changed stance on India in Afghanistan has likely come under international pressure. Governments do not reject initiatives on surmises and conjectures. International pressure on Pakistan on the subject has to be revealed. Was India kept in the loop? What sort of pressure was applied? India cannot be dismissive of a major Pakistani policy change just because it is not ready for a dialogue with Pakistan months before the general election. It breaks the momentum of change. Foreign policy is a continuous process. Even if Narendra Modi does not return as prime minister in 2019, the conduct of foreign policy will continue. At some level -- formal or otherwise -- Pakistan has to be kept engaged. You cannot indefinitely defer engagement hoping for a miracle to occur.

Certainly, Pakistan primarily is to blame for the enormous trust deficit with India. No Indian government can take lightly Pakistan’s reluctance to prosecute the 26/11 terrorist handlers and inspirers. It is also well-known that the ISI has ordered attacks on Indian interests and assets in Afghanistan through proxies. As for Pakistan’s fear of Indian encirclement from Afghanistan, what’s to be said of Pakistani inroads into Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives actively assisted by China? But if Pakistan desires to make a complete break from the past and at least in Afghanistan, it is a proposition worth examining with an open mind. No one suggests a high profile engagement capped with photo-ops for Narendra Modi and Imran Khan. But a course change on the part of Pakistan -- announced in the national assembly, no less -- at least calls for a full appraisal of the change. Not talking will not help. How long can we not talk? Not talking is not a policy measure. It is usually totalitarian states that are afraid of a dialogue. The United States was highly creative in diplomacy during the Cold War. It was always pushing the envelope with the Soviet Union so to speak. On the other hand, the USSR was rigid and obstructive. Its longest-serving foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, was called Mr Nyet. Who won the Cold War?

Given the state it is, Pakistan ought to be rigid and obstructive. Unfortunately, the boot is on the other foot. Indian diplomacy was rarely creative but it has positively stultified since Narendra Modi came to power. Modi approaches foreign policy as event management and reposes all his faith in personal chemistry between heads of governments. He took to Nawaz Sharief like a long lost brother without caring for the underlying dynamics of the Pakistan army. Taking subsequent Pakistani terrorist attacks as personal betrayal, he refuses any sort of dealing with Pakistan. These one-eighty-degree swings are poison for geopolitics. Geopolitics demands artful balancing. Emotions must be kept in check. If Pakistan is comfortable with the Indian presence in Afghanistan, it is good news. It must be explored for its solidity and depth; its acceptance by Pakistan’s chief stakeholder, the army, must be examined; and it should serve to spur India to revisit its strategic aims and priorities in Afghanistan. Geopolitics suffers from reflexive negativity and obstructionism.