NEW DELHI – Exasperated by what it regards as “a continuing pattern of evasiveness and denial in Pakistan’s response to the terrorist attack on Mumbai,” India seems to be fashioning a two-pronged approach towards Islamabad to get it to act firmly against terrorist networks based on its soil.
If one element in this approach is to downgrade relations with Pakistan and remind it that the military option is not entirely off the table, the second element is to cajole Pakistan to proceed legally against jehadi extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (renamed Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and yet again, Tehreek-e-Tahafuz Qibla Awal).
Different officials of the Indian government have recently made varying statements suggesting the existence of such a dual strategy, or “the good cop, bad cop” approach.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs has by and large adopted a soft stance, while other officials have spoken as if they preferred a strategy to ratchet up pressure on Pakistan in a calibrated way.
Thus, following the second approach, India’s newly appointed Home Minister P. Chidambaram told ‘The (London) Times’ that India could consider ending people-to-people and trade relations with Islamabad.
Chidambaram said: “There are many, many links between India and Pakistan, and if Pakistan does not cooperate and does not help to bring the perpetrators [of the terrorist attacks] to heel, those ties will become weaker and weaker and one day snap.”
On Thursday, in another instance of this graded approach, India’s army chief Deepak Kapoor told the media that New Delhi is keeping all its options open, but the military option would be “the last resort.” He said: “There is no need for war hysteria” and emphasized that “waging war is a political decision.”
More ominously, Kapoor hinted at the possibility of covert action in Afghanistan and said increasing India’s strategic presence in Afghanistan is “one of the factors” to be considered in exerting pressure on Pakistan. But he made it clear that the decision would be a political one.
Kapoor said: “Changing our strategic policy towards Kabul in terms of raising military stakes is one of the factors that is to be determined politically.”
Just a week earlier, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had accused Pakistan of using “terrorism as an instrument of state policy.”
Yet another indication of this gradual hardening of India’s stance came in the cancellation of a meeting with Pakistan to discuss a maritime border dispute at Sir Creek, a narrow 100 kilometre-long estuary which divides the two countries on the Arabian Sea.
It was from the Sir Creek area that the 10 men who conducted the Mumbai attacks of Nov. 26-29 hijacked a fishing boat to reach their destination.
The Creek has long been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan, who disagree on the location of the maritime border, and have debated it since 1999. Officials of the two countries recently conducted a survey of the estuary.
The dispute is considered extremely close to resolution. “We have made considerable progress and hopefully, a solution should emerge in a couple of meetings,” says an Indian official who declined to be identified.
“But the Mumbai attacks and Pakistan’s refusal to take action on the basis of the detailed dossier on Mumbai recently given to it by India have complicated matters,” the official added.
Pressure on New Delhi to adopt a tough stance vis-à-vis Pakistan comes especially from the media, from retired diplomats and military and intelligence officials. This is apart from ultra-nationalist, opposition political parties.
Immediately after the Mumbai attacks, several television channels launched a campaign in favor of punishing Pakistan. This has, however, become less hysterical recent days.
But 10 former ambassadors, last week, urged the government to downgrade diplomatic ties with Pakistan.
In a joint statement, the ambassadors, including four former foreign secretaries, called upon the government to suspend bilateral negotiations and the peace process, discontinue state-assisted cultural, sporting and other exchanges, review existing bilateral treaties and agreements and take specific economic measures against Pakistan.
They also want New Delhi to restrict procurement from countries or companies supplying defense material to Pakistan.
However, their appeal, and their view that that the attacks were carried out “with the knowledge and support of sections of the Pakistan military and the ISI” (Inter-Services Intelligence agency), are at variance with the Foreign Ministry’s position against suspending trade, transport and cultural relations with Pakistan.
A senior Ministry official has said that the demand for terminating diplomatic and people-to-people links would “actually play into the hands of the Pakistani military establishment,” which would like to stoke tensions and generate a state of siege in the neighboring country.
India’s foreign ministry has reacted in a relatively cool and sober fashion to statements emanating from Pakistan to the effect that the Mumbai dossier contains “information,” but not “evidence.”
In a significant move, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told a television channel on Friday that India would be satisfied if those involved in planning and executing the Mumbai attacks are tried in Pakistani courts, provided they are “tried fairly.”
An identical view was stated two days earlier in New Delhi by visiting British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
This marks a departure from India’s earlier demand that Pakistan must hand over to it some 40 terrorists and fugitives from Indian law. India has made this demand repeatedly since the Parliament House attack of December 2001, allegedly conducted by a Pakistan-based group.
India has not officially withdrawn that demand. “But there seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that it is not very practical to expect Pakistan to surrender its nationals for trial in India,” says Achin Vanaik, a professor of international relations and global politics at the University of Delhi.
“This recognition is welcome, but Pakistan must do more on its own to crack down on jehadi groups,” Vanaik added.
Many Pakistan-based analysts believe that Islamabad, in particular its weak civilian government, cannot afford to be seen to be caving in to Indian pressure.
For instance, former general Talat Masood has repeatedly said on Indian television channels that there is likely to be a divergence between officials pronouncements and actions, but that he expected some action on the ground.
As if on cue, on Thursday, Pakistan’s prime ministerial advisor on interior affairs, Rehman Malik, announced the detention of 71 members of outlawed militant groups such as the JuD and the LeT and such of their top ranking leaders as Hafiz Mohammed Saeed [founder of both groups], Mufti Abdur Rehman and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi.
Malik, in a televised press conference, said five “training camps” of the JuD had been shut down and its websites banned. A special investigation team headed by a top official of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) will now examine “without any prejudice” all aspects of the Mumbai attacks and the information provided by India, he said.
“India’s best bet lies in patient diplomacy at the bilateral and multilateral levels to secure a firm commitment and action from Pakistan to put down jehadi groups,” argues Vanaik.
“All talk of covert operations in Afghanistan is a major distraction from this,” Vanaik said. “It can only stoke suspicion and hostility in Pakistan and strengthen the hardliners, besides creating new intractable rivalries in Afghanistan’s already troubled situation.”
Vanaik believes that it is unwise for India to place too much reliance on the United States, given President-elect Barrack Obama’s intention to intensify the Afghanistan war. This, he said, calls for cooperation from the Pakistan Army and “limits the amount of pressure the U.S. can mount on Pakistan.”
Another of New Delhi’s priorities has been to persuade Washington to abandon its plans to appoint a special envoy to South Asia, who will help mediate Kashmir as well as other outstanding regional issues. Recent indications suggest that the Indian government has had a measure of success in this.
Meanwhile, civil society groups in both India and Pakistan are stepping up their efforts to maintain people-to-people contacts and ask their governments to abjure the military option and jointly fight religious extremism and terrorism.
A 20-member delegation of Pakistani civil society activists is planning to visit New Delhi between Jan. 21 and 23. It will be hosted by a number of Indian peace groups and activists and will interact with senior political leaders, key policymakers, the academic community and the media.