India is confident of being able to stick to a “terrorism first” agenda at its two upcoming high level meetings with Pakistan.
One reason is that Washington has signalled it will not be pushing for any forward movement on Kashmir. The other is that New Delhi has concluded President Asif Ali Zardari is now in a stronger position than he was earlier this year.
The foreign secretaries and foreign ministers of India and Pakistan are expected to meet on the sidelines of the UN general assembly. Indicating a tough line, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan told CNN-IBN TV on Sunday that “the dialogue should be essentially confined to discussing terrorism.”
After stumbling over Sharm el Sheikh, New Delhi committed to waiting for Islamabad to take action against Lashkar-e-Tayyeba before resuming the composite dialogue.
Traditionally a frozen peace process would have triggered anxiety in Washington. However, the US indicated to Home Minister P. Chidambaram during his recent visit there that it does not see Kashmir as being linked to the problems it is facing in Afghanistan-Pakistan. In other words, the US has concluded it has enough on its hands stabilising Pakistan and should not bother with Kashmir.
This is being seen by diplomats here as the eclipse of a school of thinking in Washington propagated by Afpak Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke that the path to Pakistan’s heart was through Kashmir.
There has also been a school in New Delhi concerned at pressuring Zardari, a president whose overall posture was favourable to India.
Squeezing Zardari, it was argued, would only help those in the Pakistan most hostile to India. Zardari is believed to have confided his political weakness to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in past meetings.
However, in the past few months, the Pakistani president has been able to leverage his strong standing with the Obama administration to deflect his most pressing domestic threat. This was an attempt by elements of his own Pakistan People’s Party, the military and Nawaz Sharif to join hands against him.
The Pakistan military has accepted that removing Zardari will result in a strong US reaction that will threaten both arms and funding. India’s view is that “the worst is behind” Zardari. With the US also quiescent, New Delhi feels it can press the terrorism button hard.