India’s dramatic decision to call off talks with Pakistan bore the unmistakable stamp of Prime Minister Narendra Modi but it also marks a tectonic shift in the way the Indian policy establishment has chosen to deal with provocations from Islamabad up until now. 

Officials, including serving diplomats and those from the security/intelligence apparatus, told ET that Modi expressed doubts about the foreign secretary-level talks leading to any meaningful steps when the first reports of firing across the Line of Control (LoC) came in from Jammu & Kashmir early this month. Subsequently, there were over 10 ceasefire violations from across the LoC as well as the international border, including heavy firing as late as Sunday.

The politician in Modi calculated that elusive peace dividends would not be enough to cancel out the domestic fallout as public opinion kept building up against ceasefire violations. “He played to his political constituency. The move to cancel talks was largely political and less diplomatic,” said a Pakistan expert who didn’t want to be named.

Once he had made up his mind, the PM took the party into confidence and received ample support from his ministerial colleagues. The National Security Advisor was informed of the PM’s decision. BJP was in favour of cancellation of talks at this stage as it did not want Congress and other parties to take political advantage, sources well-versed with the developments said.

“Modi was in the driver’s seat and the others were co-passengers,” said the Pakistan expert mentioned earlier. 

A highly placed official in the Indian security establishment, who was part of the deliberations, told ET that by cancelling the talks unilaterally, the new government was following the “second school of thought” on Pakistan. Those who advocate this line argue that Islamabad must be made to “count the costs” of any misadventures — whether it be terror strikes or hobnobbing with Hurriyat.

Up until now, the Indian establishment subscribed to a benign policy of reciprocity which argued that it was in New Delhi’s interest to strengthen the hands of the perpetually shaky Pakistani governments. 

This school believed that Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir and terrorism against India is controlled by the Army and ISI, and so the civilian government needed to be bailed out so it can grab the reins of real power. UPA followed this policy as it felt that till the time Pakistan Army calls the shots on Kashmir policy, it will continue to perpetrate violence against India to derail any peace talks initiated by Pakistan’s civilian government, said the official. Hence, the delinking of terror attacks ..

However, by abruptly cancelling the talks after the Pakistan envoy met separatist Hurriyat leaders, the present government was following the second school of thought that India should mind its own interests and let Pakistan realise the cost of its misadventures. 

“The present government is of the opinion that if Pakistan does something detrimental to India’s interests, it must fear that it will be followed up with some consequences. Otherwise, the other party keeps feeling that whatever it does, India will not react so as to not derail the talks with the civilian government. Now, suddenly, the other party is counting the costs. This is in line with BJP’s philosophy on Pakistan,” the senior official said.
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