External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, an avid tennis player, joked that he might even squeeze in a game as talks got underway with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Islamabad. But he proved inept in fending off a savage volley when Pakistan sought to equate Home secretary G.K. Pillai with Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) chief Hafiz Saeed after the former spoke of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Absurd as the comparison was, it is symptomatic of the fact there is very little meeting ground between the two sides, notwithstanding all the hype that preceded Mr Krishna’s visit.
The Pakistanis appeared determined to erase any point of convergence going to the extent of saying that Mr Krishna received instructions from New Delhi throughout the talks, as if to suggest that this was somehow subversive. Perhaps the one truth that Mr Qureshi reiterated is that Pakistan has its own interests and that India should understand this. Clearly, Islamabad has a crucial interest in sweeping under the carpet the compelling evidence that India has provided about the role of the LeT and the ISI in terror acts in India. Pakistan’s efforts to portray Saeed as nothing more than a preacher is of a piece with its belief that pushing the Haqqani faction of the Taliban into a power-sharing agreement in Kabul will give it greater leverage in the region. Its own ally in the war, the US has sought to blacklist the Haqqani group, something that’s agitated Pakistan enormously.
Now that the meet in Islamabad has been derailed, it would be more credible to wait for a real change in intent from Islamabad before embarking on another confidence-building visit. If, as Pakistan tells the world, it is more a victim of terror than India, it would be well-advised to address that than the liberation of Kashmir or engaging with the Taliban. The same people who have got sanctuary in Pakistan have never hesitated from turning on it when things don’t go their way. But diplomatically speaking, it’s advantage Pakistan with India’s silence being misinterpreted to mean complicity in the attack on the home secretary. Mr Qureshi’s over-the-top response to the home secretary’s remark should have been clear indication that Pakistan did not expect anything concrete from the talks except notching up a few brownie points. At least, Mr Krishna could have defended India’s corner, but unfortunately, Pakistan had already scored a diplomatic victory, though a pyrrhic one.