The release of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed by a Pakistani court is another blow to the Indo-Pak composite dialogue stalled since the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. But is the policy of not engaging with Islamabad sustainable and helpful from New Delhi’s standpoint?
Sooner than later, the UPA government has to take a call on the knotty question that’s just one among the many in the troubled Indian neighborhood, including Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Options are being weighed with some urgency. New Delhi’s security concerns have to be factored in with prospects of US-led international pressure to reopen the “paused” composite dialogue, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton comes calling next month. The Indian dilemma is summed up by a John F. Kennedy quote overheard in South Block: “Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate.”
But Pakistan continues to be a jigsaw puzzle. Saeed’s release on technical grounds isn’t without traces of judicial activism on the Kashmir issue the JuD propagates as a case of Indian ‘occupation’. During arguments, the (West) Punjab High Court equated UN Security Council resolutions on Saeed with those on Kashmir: If Pakistan is bound by the resolutions on JuD, then why India isn’t by those on Kashmir?
By coincidence or design, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani reverted to status quo ante on Kashmir on the day the court threw out his government’s case against Sayeed. At a session of the “Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council,” he called for “just and peaceful” resolution in accordance with the UN resolutions.
All this has perplexed New Delhi no end and spoiled perhaps the ambience for returning to the negotiating table. But the pro-talks line draws from NDA’s experience. Atal Bihari Vajpayee set up the composite dialogue in 2004 after a near-scorched earth policy (including massing troops on the border) in reaction to the 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament.
Voluntary engagement with Pakistan, it is believed, will ward off international pressure besides opening the window, howsoever narrowly, for cooperation in dismantling terrorist infrastructure and bringing to book the perpetrators of 26/11.
It’s likely that New Delhi will firm up its stance upon gauging the Obama Administration’s India policy in the South Asian context — notably Pakistan and Afghanistan — during the Clinton visit.