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For now, wait and watch

India has been less than deft in handling the post-Osama scenario vis-à-vis Pakistan.

india Updated: May 18, 2011 22:58 IST

The inclusion of Thane resident Wazhul Kamar Khan in a list of 50 fugitives supposedly living in Pakistan by the Indian government is the latest misstep in New Delhi’s attempts to capitalise on the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The original blundering was done by the heads of the Indian Army and Air Force who, by declaring they were capable of carrying out stealth strikes against Pakistan, provided a beleaguered Islamabad a useful diversion from the Abbottabad embarrassment. On the other hand, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a tepid response to bin Laden’s death, unbecoming of a nation that claims to be among the worst victims of the slain terrorist’s brand of terrorism.

The only saving grace in all this has been that India’s statements, including the erroneous fugitives’ list, have been barely noticed by the outside world and have had little impact on Pakistan’s present state of affairs.

As far as can be ascertained, India’s broad policy towards Pakistan remains sound. Mr Singh has stubbornly pursued peace talks with Pakistan and, recently, in Kabul, he made it clear that India was not in the business of counterterrorism attacks by stealth.

India has also made clear its desire for a reduced Pakistani military influence in foreign policy matters and the isolation of that same military from sources of international support. This would undermine the primary obstacle to constructive bilateral negotiations with India and, hopefully, make the Pakistani brass more amenable to talks.

Bin Laden’s death was manna from geopolitical heaven for India. It humiliated the Pakistani military at home and abroad, giving a boost to that country’s civilian political leaders. It also triggered a huge anti-Pakistani backlash in the US Congress, dramatically but not terminally fraying what is the main financial and weapons lifeline for Rawalpindi.

India could also position itself as a good neighbour by speaking soothingly in Afghanistan, another bugbear for the Pakistani military.

New Delhi’s attempts to nudge these developments in its favour have been less than surefooted as different arms of the government have spoken at cross-purposes or, in the case of the home ministry, simply incorrectly.

Fortunately, no one is paying much attention to India tripping itself up. That Pakistani generals are being forced to defend themselves before their legislature and feel the need to assert that they must continue to control the policy towards India is evidence that the military’s standing continues to be parlous.

And the level of vitriol between Washington and Islamabad has shown only minimal signs of abatement. This leads to making the case that India’s best policy in these circumstances would be to be attentive to developments, but quiet in reacting to them.