Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

The prospects of peace in the Indian subcontinent post-26/11 appear bleak. The meeting of the top leaders of India and Pakistan at the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg on 16 June 2009 did not bring any respite to the peace seekers in the subcontinent as the pronouncements aftermath added only to the fragile nature of bilateral relations.

While the Indian leadership straightway demanded Pakistan must stop use of its territory for terror attacks against India, Pakistan’s lackadaisical approach further protracted the endgame in South Asia. Reportedly Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has cancelled the idea of participating in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in July 2009 in Egypt and instead deputed his Prime Minister, Yusuf Raja Gilani to attend the summit, in which leadership of both the countries was supposed to talk on the issue of terrorism. This development has indicated the dithering on part of Pakistan in reviving peace dialogue aftermath of the 26/11.

The stop and start mechanism in Indo-Pak relations is an old technique in bilateral relations, which seems to be failing for the first time. It so happens whenever a major breakdown takes place in relations the two countries suddenly go back to a visceral mode almost making the relations irretrievable. The relations break down to the point of nadir, then after some time the relations gradually come back to a normal working stage. Instances abound to substantiate this argument. After the nuclear tests in 1998 and subsequent sabre rattling the bilateral relations had slowed down only to be revived with the Vajpayee initiative with corresponding positive attitude from Pakistan which made bus roll from Amritsar to Lahore.

The war in Kargil heights in 1999 severely damaged the relations. The relations showed prospects of revival with the visit of then Pak President Pervez Musharraf to Agra in the summer of 2001 which did not work but somehow led to initiation of talks in bilateral relations. The attack on Indian parliament on 13 December 2001 broke down relations. The relations got revived in 2003. Pakistan’s promise in January 2004 that its territory will not be allowed to launch anti-India activities enhanced trust between the South Asian neighbours.

This topsy-turvy nature of India-Pakistan relations seem to have been worsened this time. The terror attack at the India’s commercial capital did reverberate at the various centres of the world. The attack pointed to the use of Pak territory in perpetrating the attack. Ostensibly under the pressure of India and international powers Pakistan did take actions against the perpetrators. The attack parts of which were recorded by the CCTV cameras installed at various places in Mumbai demonstrated to the world not only the devious strategy to kill innocent people, but also the devious mind of the culprits in perpetrating the attack. Pakistan arrested the Chief of Jamaat-ud-Daawa, Hafeez Saeed and took into custody Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, one of the leaders of Lashkar-e-Toiba directly involved in the attack. It sought for evidence which was provided by India. But, six months down the line nothing substantial happened. Saeed was released on 3 June 2009.

Lakhvi remained in custody, his case being postponed date by date and he still retained control of the Lashkar from the custody. These developments add not only to the frustration to the Indian leadership but also bring to the realisation that the Pak policy to nab the culprits is not sincere.

It can be understood as well as empathised that the Pakistan has its own set of compulsions in neutralising the radical elements. It has become a victim of terrorism. The world knows when the forces stormed the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July 2007, how the fundamentalists vowed to punish Islamabad for the action. But this explanation in the context of Pak vulnerability to terrorism does not answer all the queries nor crack the riddle.

None other than the current Pak ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani has revealed in his book Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, how the Pakistani establishment has used the Taliban and Islam as arsenals in its strategies against India and Afghanistan, and as strategic levers to draw resources from the US. The strategy is something like this: talk to India and at the same time use the terrorist elements to put pressure on it, and when India demands actions against these forces tell the world India is not sincere in dialogue.

Hence, Pakistan has no fault in the deadlock. The noted scholar Stephen Cohen has termed the US Pakistan’s ATM, which Pakistan uses when it needs by showing it has a terrible terror burden and to fight it, it needs increasing aid which in fact is diverted to other areas including buying or developing sophisticated weapons including the nuclear ones which are seldom used against the terrorists.

Pakistan’s civilian leadership may be interested, may be sincere, as many analysts argue, to punish the culprits, but the logical next follows: what has been done so far in substance? If the civilian government fails in its commitment to root out terror from Pak territory then the question arises: is there any actual obstacle which the civilian government is not strong enough to overcome? Are the matters of strategic importance and those related to India including terror attacks against it are decided not by Islamabad but by Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the army? The honest answer can provide a clear picture as to who is more powerful in Pakistan: the civilian leadership or military leadership or there is an amiable balance of interests between the two in making India the scapegoat for their failures in providing security and stability to Pakistan?

It is a truism that the terror business has involved a huge capital as well as huge political gamble. Its costs in terms men and material are too devastating and too deep. Can India and Pakistan come out of those old caverns and do some good exercise in peace and dialogue? Perhaps, the proposed foreign secretaries’ meeting in Egypt in July 2009 would make right moves in this direction. For now much of Indo-Pak relations are to be left to the domain of hope.


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra, PhD  – Centre for Central Eurasian Studies, University of Mumbai



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