In merely calling off talks between Mrs Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistani counterpart, India has allowed hawks to use the immediate ground-situation to dictate policy ~ and permit an embarrassing flip-flop. Managing external affairs requires more than episodic knee-jerk reactions, but the NDA’s Pakistan-policy ~ if indeed it has one ~ has from day-one been limited to verbal bellicosity without any effective diplomatic backing up.

Sure the killing of three policemen in South Kashmir, the mutilation of the body of a BSF jawan killed on the International Border and release of postage stamps glorifying terrorism all militated against positive ministerial interaction, but the MEA needs to explain what had prompted it to dilute its position that talks and terror are incompatible.

If a single letter from the new Pakistan prime minister sufficed to swing the diplomatic weather-vane one way, a repetition of the outrages Pakistan consistently perpetrates caused it to swing in reverse direction. Inconsistencies point to a deficit in policy formulation, worse that it was at the PMO that a decision taken 24 hours earlier was overturned: and the spokesman of the MEA was reduced to making unprofessional, undiplomatic comments which might have sounded better if made from a political platform. It all boiled down to a stamina-deficit in foreign policy ~ making peace is often more demanding than waging war.

True that India has taken “enough”, but is junking a meeting in which little more than a thaw in frosty relations could have been expected adequate retribution? With its much-vaunted military prowess, and a mood triggered by orchestrated celebrations of the anniversary of the over-hyped surgical strikes (which had less military advantage than domestic political value), an immediate, forceful, punitive counter-punch ought to have been delivered even with the window left open for the ministers’ jaw-jaw. That, more than what the MEA spokesman said, would have sent Imran Khan a signal that he had best not resort to “chucking”.

It is true that a military punch might prove escalatory, yet India boasts a powerful military and should not shy away from using it selectively. Military action that was not immediate would lose much of its sting: surely Nirmala Sitharaman and Gen.

Bipin Rawat have contingency plans for such emergencies. And what about the claims of the world’s fastest-growing economy? Surely that has clout too, particularly when the Pak economy is tottering. Some genuine muscle-flexing ~ not the verbal version ~ would have had Imran & Co squirming. Instead it was the MEA spokesman who was left cutting a hollow, sorry figure despite all the adjectives he brandished.

Now we are back to square-one, wallowing in the schoolgirls’ comfort-zone of whimpered silence. Pakistan will neither be pressured into abandoning its policy of bleeding India in Kashmir, nor given a kick. “No talking” equates with supine surrender.