History has been witness to the fact that India has tried multiple times to talk to Pakistan. From the day Narendra Modi government was sworn-in, efforts have been made by New Delhi to reach out to Islamabad and diffuse tensions

by Shantanu Mukharji

PM Modi even paid a surprise visit to Lahore to meet former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday was part of India's efforts to establish peace between the two countries.

Unfortunately, the same gesture has not been reciprocated in equal measure. Every attempt at peace has been followed with a terror strike.

The meeting at Ufa in July 2015 was followed by a dastardly attack in Gurdaspur (Punjab) and Udhampur (Jammu & Kahsmir). The Heart of Asia Conference in Islamabad in December 2015 was followed sadly by an attack on Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January 2016.

In 2011, the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government agreed, in principle, to grant Most Favoured Nation status to India, but here again the deep state advised Islamabad to go slow. In 2013, Nawaz Sharif tried to reach out and jumpstart the process of trade liberalisation with India, but he was restrained.

What more proof does one want after Nawaz Sharif in a recent public gathering confirmed the involvement of non-state actors in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

All of this leads me to a larger point that has been echoed over and over again that the deep state in Pakistan calls all the shots and has scuttled any sincere effort by Islamabad in bettering relations with India. Is it then high time to open up a channel of communication with the Pakistani deep state?

It may sound somewhat radical, but it's certainly an avenue worth exploring. It would be easier for the civilian government in Islamabad to also handle its domestic constituency if the powerful Pakistani Army is also on the talking table with India.

This obviously will have to be slightly low-key as no country would like to admit that its democratically elected government is subservient to its own army. So the talks will have to be a parallel set-up with mechanisms in place between the two national security advisers or defence and security officials.

There have been occasions in the past when the Pakistani military has extended an offer for dialogue to India.

In 2012, the then Army chief general Pervez Kayani had expressed his willingness to resolve the Siachen issue and demilitarise the region. This was after an avalanche hit 140 Pakistani soldiers and civilian contractors.

India had empathised and welcomed Kayani's concerns but there was no progress on the front.

Earlier in 2011, secret talks between general Kayani and then PM Manmohan Singh through an unofficial envoy had prepared the ground for cricket diplomacy at Mohali after which we saw former Pakistan PM Yusuf Gillani at the World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan.

Then in 2009, then ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, a trusted aide of general Kayani, in a meeting with three defence advisers of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, suggested that ISI and the Pakistani Army should find a place in bilateral talks with India. Lt Gen Pasha had even told Pakistani journalists later that talks would be more substantial if New Delhi is in direct contact with them.

It would be important to recollect that Pervez Musharraf's four-point formula for Kashmir was a landmark idea and could have seen the light of day had it not been for the domestic turmoil against him 2007.

Of late, the current Army chief has sent some positive feelers and peace overtures through a UK-based think tank. In March, India's defence attaché was invited to Pakistan's military parade in what was considered a rare and first-of-its-kind gesture.

The mission for both countries is the same — work toward peace in the subcontinent. It's in no one's interest to let problems fester. New Delhi's game changing initiative of a ceasefire during Ramzan in Kashmir and the possibility of extending it seem to have gone a long way in the valley.

A fact that Pakistan also must come to terms with while it tries to foment problems in Kashmir. Responding to the repeated ceasefire violations along the international border over the last one month, the Pakistani Army made the first move - reaching out to India in hope for a ceasefire and return to their hotline communications. There is a willingness to reach out, it would be wise to reciprocate and seize this opportunity.

Pakistan is in an election year. This is the time for change and a change in approach could go a long way even if it means beginning an engagement with the deep state.