India’s dilemma when it comes to engaging with Pakistan could not have been more evident than the past two days. Over the weekend, Islamicist militants thronged Rawalpindi, de facto capital of the Pakistani military, crying that the ‘Kashmiri jihad’ was not over yet. The members of the Difa-e-Pakistan, an alliance of militant groups headed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, was also lauded by a Pakistani minister as “patriotic citizens”.
On Monday, however, Pakistan ensured that full assistance was extended to an Air India liner that made an emergency landing in Sindh. The two governments have twice interacted at senior levels recently: the foreign secretaries and the foreign ministers. Both sides went through the motions about terrorism and Kashmir. It can be said that these diplomatic encounters were largely positive. New Delhi and Islamabad sought to ensure these meetings would become a bridge to something bigger and better in the near future. Unsurprisingly, this seeming schizophrenia within Pakistan leads many in India to ask whether negotiation makes any sense at all. The good news for India is that the Pakis-tani leadership’s India-centrism means that anything to do with New Delhi normally requires a consensus between the civilian and military arms of the government. The army traditionally has veto power over any policy initiatives when it comes to Pakistan’s eastern neighbour. The civilian leadership has generally been in favour of a more engagement-based policy. But when it has gone out on a branch on this idea, Rawalpindi has been quick to wield the axe. It is generally believed that what is happening between India and Pakistani today is being done with the approval of both the suited and the booted.
There is a sense that an Islamabad-cum-Rawalpindi hemmed in by its deteriorating relations with the US and being drawn into an Afghan quagmire are now much closer in their views on India than was the case the past three years. The military may see the present overtures to India as tactical, a temporary consequence of Pakistan’s present weakness, and the civilian leadership may take a less sanguine view of the domestic costs of hostility to India. But the end policy is the same as far as India is concerned. Pakistan engagement is worth pursuing just in case the temporary fix becomes a permanent fixture. However, it will mean that Pakistan should be expected to speak with many voices on the topic of India — the good, the bad and the ugly. It will be up to New Delhi to be statesmanlike enough to differentiate background noise from the symphony — and explain to its public what this difference means.