The Havana agreement between India and Pakistan to set up a joint anti-terrorism mechanism has apparently shocked some in the Indian intelligence, security and military clergy. This should not surprise us. After all, this kettle of hawks has a tendency of being shocked too easily, especially when any dealings with our adversarial neighbour does not bear the strong, ‘manly’ thumb-print of the hawks. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s description of Pakistan as also being a “victim of terrorism” has not gone down well with these critics either. In other words, New Delhi, for them, has turned pusillanimous and has now decided to sup with the very devil who cooks the broth of terror.
It takes uncommon courage to attempt reconciliation with a particularly prickly adversary. The Prime Minister displayed this in ample measure in Havana. The joint mechanism — the details of which are yet to be worked out — is a new approach. If it works in bringing terrorist attacks by jehadi groups against India to a halt, wonderful. If it does not work, then, as Mr Singh stated pragmatically, it will be “wound up”. The India-Pakistan joint mechanism has been agreed upon because other approaches have failed. There is a need to carefully look at Pervez Musharraf’s nuanced comment that Pakistan had no hand in carrying out terrorist acts in India by noting that it relates to the present and not to the past. And it is in this present that he wishes to join India in a cooperative anti-terrorism mechanism. Relations between States, as between humans, tend to be messy, complicated and even contrary. Given our proximity to Islamabad, we sometimes lack the perspective to understand this. If Washington can establish an anti-terrorism joint mechanism with Pakistan and apply the right pressures whenever required, there is no reason why India, with its legions of smart cookies, cannot do the same.
In the end, India must decide on the nature of the relationship it wants with Pakistan. The tough talk of the past — ‘no talks until there is no terror’ — has not worked. There is no surety that an anti-terrorism joint mechanism will make the two countries embrace each other in a spontaneous show of affection. But if it pays to be pragmatic — and innovative — instead of merely flexing muscles for the domestic akhara, the agreement could be the best chance forward in an otherwise passing-the-pillow subcontinental game.