The contrast between India’s demand that Pakistan take visible action against those responsible for the Mumbai terror attack and the setback in the trial of Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, underlines the dilemma facing India. New Delhi believes it must engage with Islamabad in some form of dialogue, no matter how low the expectation of accomplishment. But it cannot afford to resume talks without showing the Indian public that Pakistan accepts some responsibility for Mumbai, even if symbolic. However, it is dealing with a Pakistan civilian regime of unusual weakness. President Asif Ali Zardari’s influence is decreasing daily. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is in worse shape. The Pakistani army has authority but not legitimacy and still holds to the broad view that militants are a crucial part of its arsenal against India.
This means that no matter how much India may berate Pakistan, the latter has minimal ability to implement even what it promises to do. The Pakistani federal government’s decision to continue to pursue the Saeed case, despite showing no signs of digging up the additional evidence needed to bring the case to a successful conclusion, is just further evidence of the gap between intentions and capabilities. The simple truth is India has very little in the way of coercive ability when it comes to a Pakistan which has no clear centralised authority and when the United States, tied up in an escalating war along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, cannot expend political capital on New Delhi’s behalf. The presence of a Pakistani President who is probably genuine in his desire to put the bitterness of the past six decades behind him only ties India’s hands further.
India and Afghanistan are the countries that will suffer the most from the overspill of violence that Pakistan’s domestic turmoil is generating. Military action does not seem to be an option. Diplomacy has, so far, been unable to navigate past the shoals of Islamabad’s divided authority. Sensibly, if belatedly, New Delhi has begun the process of tightening defences along the country’s western perimeter. The task of reforming the police system has barely begun. Finally, the country needs to revive its moribund intelligence network in Pakistan. Building a wall is an unfortunately passive response to an active threat, but until circumstances change this may be the only strategy open to India.