Pakistan’s preliminary response to the Indian dossier on the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks has been to ask more questions and demand more evidence.
Islamabad also continues to spread tales of the plot having originated in a third country. A pattern of delay and dissimulation is all too evident. Yet, this tactic seems to be working for Pakistan: international and domestic interest in 26/11 is dropping and both may be beyond salvage.
Pakistan’s motives for delaying begin with the weakness of its civilian government and its unwillingness to be seen taking action against Lashkar-e-Tayyeba on behalf of New Delhi. The recent release of nuclear smuggler A.Q. Khan only reinforces the impression of a regime looking for means to appease hardline sentiment in the army and militant ranks. Further, Pakistan is bracing for rising demands from the new Barack Obama administration regarding Afghanistan. It is noticeable that in almost every post-election foreign policy pronouncement, senior US officials are repeatedly warning Pakistan against harbouring terrorists. While 26/11 falls under the ambit of such a statement, the US focus is really about the threat facing its own soldiers in Afghanistan from the Taliban. In other words, international concerns regarding Pakistan are moving away from the issue of justice over Mumbai towards the more tangible terrors in the tribal areas.
Sonia Gandhi and other Congress leaders continue to talk tough. But the chances of genuine Pakistani action seem to be receding. India’s policy has largely revolved around US leverage against Pakistan. If Washington is using its influence for other purposes, the bottom falls out of New Delhi’s strategy. So far, there is little evidence that India has a more unilateral alternative to counter Pakistani intransigence. It is time to look beyond textual debates over the dossier and peddling it overseas. There is a need to review bilateral diplomatic and economic options regarding Pakistan — and a willingness to sever them or turn them into venues for more aggressive posturing. Al-Qaeda’s latest video warning India against attacking Pakistan is evidence that the idea of New Delhi still harbouring a military option at least has resonance on the other side of the border. India needs to exploit this in a manner more credible than it has to date. The day of the dossier is coming to a close.