It has never been a good time to be the head of a Pakistani civilian government. It certainly isn’t these days. In fact, going by President Asif Ali Zardari’s comments published in the New York Times on Tuesday, the Pakistani political establishment is having its worst moments as it battles a bewilderingly entangled war. On one front is the all-out effort to convince the world at large that Mr Zardari and his colleagues are in charge of the State of Pakistan. On the other front is a civil war against jihadi elements being fought in fits and starts because a full-scale operation means taking on the sponsors of terror within Pakistan’s most powerful and ubiquitous institution, the army. We do not doubt Mr Zardari’s willingness to root out terror camps in Pakistan at this juncture. What we do doubt is his ability to do it. Thus, India is confronted with a peculiar yet old dilemma: whose eyeball does New Delhi’s eyeball confront if it wants to clear up the inflammable mess that is terrorist-infested Pakistan?
No one in their right mind expected Mr Zardari to agree to hand over the list of people India wants in connection with terrorist acts, including 26/11, committed on Indian soil. Not only would that have drastically undermined Mr Zardari’s position in an already perilous situation, but Pakistan’s military overlords headquartered in Rawalpindi would not have allowed it. This is the time India can make use of America’s belated understanding that Pakistan’s army — unlike its political establishment — continues to play a dangerous ‘both sides now’ game in which it is desperate to hold on to a chip that can be played against a growing India-Afghanistan-US axis of anti-terror. The Pakistani military establishment now sees America as a fairweather friend. So its desire to hold on to the only ‘insurance’ it has as leverage is far stronger than the Zardari government’s desire to save Pakistan — never mind the subcontinent — from Pakistani terror.
In such a situation, trust is well nigh impossible. But with talks of the US playing an intermediary in a joint ‘India-Pakistan’ investigation into the Mumbai attacks, the subcontinental version of the Montagues and Capulets could practically take on a common foe: the Pakistani military establishment and its incendiary pets. This way, India could gain access to a Pakistan that lies buried inside a cordon of uniformed terrorist sponsors and Islamabad can prove which the real Pakistan is. And most vitally, with America playing proxy, everyone saves face.