Non-State actors unleash terror attacks to disrupt relationships between States; governments should be wary of playing into the hands of jihadi actors by interrupting dialogue. That has been the assumption guiding a section of India-Pakistan policymakers who want to see bilateral relations progress, despite the challenges. The mutually-agreed decision by India and Pakistan to delay foreign secretary talks, which were to be held in Islamabad today, does not, from that vantage, appear to be an ideal outcome.
There are, nonetheless, reasons to believe that a deferral is handy at the moment. India’s public opinion is still very incensed about the Pathankot attack and the optics of foreign secretaries meeting to work out the modalities of the yet-to-commence ‘comprehensive bilateral dialogue’ needed to be taken into account. The delay in talks gives Islamabad a chance to take substantive action on the perpetrators and simultaneously offers India an opportunity to assess Islamabad’s actions and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s intentions and capability to address India’s concerns.
There are a couple of takeaways from the way the post-Pathankot scenario has unfolded. Both sides have handled the crisis maturely and avoided public recriminations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed “enemies of humanity” for the attack rather than criticise Islamabad. Mr Sharif called Mr Modi to reassure him of his efforts to investigate the attack, after which home minister Rajnath Singh declared that there was no reason to “distrust” Pakistan about its assurances. The ministry of external affairs has tried to give a positive spin to Pakistan’s actions on the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), representing them as an “important and positive first step”. Pakistan has not denied that the attack was staged by Pakistan-based actors — as was the case after the Mumbai attacks — and has apprehended several individuals associated with the JeM, besides tracing and sealing the group’s offices. But Pakistan needs to do more. There is no indication if Maulana Masood Azhar has been arrested and if Mr Sharif’s government plans to prosecute him. That the Pakistan government failed to prosecute him for masterminding the 2001 Parliament attack does not hold out much hope. India is doing the right thing by giving Mr Sharif the space to assemble evidence and build a case against the perpetrators. The weeks ahead will indicate if both countries are able to cooperate on investigating terror attacks. This is also a crucial element of the process to follow, as India needs to figure out if the Pakistani military was involved in the Pathankot attack.