There is something both absurd and worrisome in the court release of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief, Hafiz Saeed, and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s accusation that India is not serious about improving cross-border relations. Islamabad knows well that New Delhi has made progress on the 26/11 Mumbai attack investigation — a prerequisite for the resumption of bilateral dialogue. Clearly a turnaround in Indo-Pakistani relations seems unlikely in the early stages of the second Manmohan Singh government.
Gilani’s government will blame the judge, but it is obvious his officials could have easily found a legal reason to detain Saeed indefinitely. What needs to be asked is what motivated Pakistan to take such a blatant and provocative action. The likely answer lies in the recent offensive in the Swat valley. President Asif Ali Zardari and Gilani are a political regime under siege. Islamabad is under unremitting pressure from Washington to take action against a Taliban movement that has many sympathisers in the establishment and general public of Pakistan. Many Pakistanis refuse to accept that their domestic terrorism problem is a consequence of their own government’s decades-long sponsorship. They prefer to blame India and the lack of a Kashmir settlement or the United States and the drone attacks along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
In recent months, the Obama administration has upped the military ante in Afghanistan and become more strident in its criticism of Islamabad. Caught between the devil of public resentment and the deep blue sea of US pressure, Pakistan’s civilian leadership has decided to appease Islamic radicals and sacrifice relations with India. It may even hope to re-kindle the idea of Kashmiri interference among some American hearts and minds. For the time being, India can afford to take a broader view of things. It was always doubtful if Pakistan would ever put the Lashkar chief behind bars. On the other hand, the US ‘Afpak’ campaign is largely in concord with Indian interests. New Delhi should accept that the latter’s continuation will come packaged with a rhetorical rollback of the former. But tolerance cannot be the policy if Saeed’s release is a precursor to renewed terrorist violence against India. Islamabad being unhelpful about terrorism is an old story. But given its present problems, Pakistan turning a new leaf would have been a welcome sign if it was starting to realise that its own national survival lay in turning away from the likes of Saeed and the Lashkar.