India-Pak ties struggle to emerge from Mumbai shadow | delhi | Hindustan Times
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India-Pak ties struggle to emerge from Mumbai shadow

Last year's Mumbai attacks ruptured a hopeful peace dialogue between arch-foes India and Pakistan and thrust their relations back into a bitter impasse that neither side seems able to break.

delhi Updated: Nov 24, 2009 08:27 IST

Last year's Mumbai attacks ruptured a hopeful peace dialogue between arch-foes India and Pakistan and thrust their relations back into a bitter impasse that neither side seems able to break.

Relations between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals, which have fought three wars since 1947, have always been fraught, but a peace process launched in early 2004 had significantly lowered tensions -- most notably over the disputed region of Kashmir.

That all ended abruptly with the attacks last November by 10 gunmen from a Pakistan-based militant group on multiple targets in Mumbai, which left 166 people dead and prompted India to suspend the dialogue with its neighbour.

The attacks "shattered a relative calm," said analyst C Uday Bhaskar, head of the National Maritime Foundation.

"Progress on disputes may have been slow but there was substantive engagement which is now missing," Bhaskar said.

India has insisted it will not resume talks until Pakistan brings those connected to the attacks to book and clamps down on militant groups operating from its side of the border.

The Mumbai gunmen were believed to be members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) outfit which India says is nurtured by sections of the Pakistani establishment.

India is no stranger to militant violence, but the scale and focus of the Mumbai attacks, which targeted landmark five-star hotels in the country's financial capital, stunned the entire country.

"Calling off talks reflected the national mood, that enough was enough," said Kalim Bahadur, a retired professor of South Asian Studies from New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Top leaders from both countries have since met several times on the sidelines of regional conferences, but there has been little progress towards normalisation.

Pakistan insists it has taken the steps required of it, while India is equally adamant that it must do more.

"Ties are still in a bad shape and the future looks bleak," said Bahadur.

Under international pressure, Islamabad earlier this year admitted the Mumbai attackers had left on their mission from Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi.

That and the trial of seven men linked to the LeT by a Pakistani court were initially seen as triumphs for India.

But the slow pace of judicial proceedings and Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik's repeated demands for more information to bring the perpetrators to justice have frustrated New Delhi.

"There is for some strange reason an unwillingness to take the investigation forward," Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram told NDTV news channel in a recent interview.

Should Islamabad act against anti-India groups, New Delhi "will not be found wanting in our response," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised during a visit to Indian-administered Kashmir last month.

"The hand of friendship that we have extended to Pakistan should be strengthened," he added.

According to Tahir Kamran, head of Government College's history department in Lahore, it is India, which holds the keys to unlock the impasse.

"Pakistan wants to mend the fences but there is a problem from India... India should act big. India is a bigger country. It should have the confidence in itself to give certain allowances to Pakistan," Kamran said.

Complicating the situation for India are the multiple power centres in Pakistan -- the president, the prime minister and the army chief.

"Who does one talk to, to be sure that the assurances given will be acted on?" said an Indian government official, who declined to be named.

Given the stalemate, one option would be to open secret back channels which have proved useful during previous periods of heightened tensions.

"It was an effective channel of communication in the past and it did some good work. It should be revived," said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh.