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Season of hope?

Home Minister Chidambaram’s visit may nudge Pak to act against the Mumbai conspirators, but tension over Afghanistan is only growing. Varghese K George writes. Indo-Pak relation since 26/11

india Updated: Jun 30, 2010 00:55 IST
Varghese K George

Flipping through background papers in the Brazilian-built Embraer during a 90-minute flight to Islamabad last Friday, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram took great care to avoid creating any hype around his visit to Pakistan, the first by an Indian minister after the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai.

“I hope Pakistan understands the gravity of the terrorist attack,” he had said. Pakistan did.

“The terrorists and criminals who committed it will be pursued,” said Pakistan Interior Minister Rahman Malik at the end of his meetings with his Indian counterpart. But India wants to see some action on the ground – something that Malik has promised to deliver on.

Pakistan is prosecuting seven people in connection with the attacks – including senior Lashkar-e-Tayeba (LeT) leader and 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Laqvi – but New Delhi thinks it’s not enough.

India has handed over evidence on people who facilitated the Mumbai attacks. There are at least seven others it wants Pakistan to act upon. The new evidence Chidambaram handed over during his visit draws from the interrogation of David Headley, a Pakistani-American terrorist, now in US custody.

“In some cases, we have given descriptions and in some, even the photographs. Pakistan must now investigate these leads,” a senior Indian official said.

Pakistan seems willing, on the face of it, to walk the talk, despite maintaining that it has no evidence to prosecute LeT founder Hafeez Saeed, as is being demanded by India.

In a turnaround, it has signalled that it may provide voice samples of some suspects that India needs to match with the recordings of conversations between the Mumbai terrorists and their Pakistani handlers.

There are other signs of change as well.

“The Pakistan government knows that it is necessary to go after these elements (terrorists) for our own interests. But its ability to do so is not absolute,” says Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general.

“We should allow the outcomes to speak for themselves,” Chidamabaram said after the bilateral meeting.

“You will see the results soon enough,” Malik promised.

Pakistan has made such promises in the past, only to break them shortly after. But this time may be different.

“Chidambaram’s reputation as a tough-talking home minister will give more credibility to such joint initiatives,” says Happymon Jacob, who teaches international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University and is coordinator of the Pugwash India-Pakistan Independent Commission, a track-II initiative.

India is hoping for some tangible action by Pakistan on the Mumbai terror attacks before Foreign Minister SM Krishna’s visit to Islamabad from July 14 to 16.

But even as the two countries seem to have found some meeting ground on this contentious issue, Afghanistan has emerged as a new theatre of conflict.

India’s repeated declarations that its interventions in Afghanistan are purely humanitarian and that Pakistan must treat its relations with India independent of developments in Afghanistan have not cut much ice.

“India’s pitch for influence in Afghanistan is discomforting for Pakistan. It’s like Pakistan trying to expand its influence in Nepal,” says a retired Pakistani diplomat who has served in both India and Afghanistan.

But even as the two countries spar over Afghanistan, there are signs that a large section of the Pakistani establishment is coming around to the opinion that its strategy of “bleeding India through a thousand cuts”, is proving too costly and not quite yielding results.

“Terrorist attacks may shock India, but the country won’t disintegrate because of a few dozen killings,” points out a former Pakistani general.

Then, sections of the government and educated Pakistanis realise that their country is no match for India economically and that peace would give them a better chance to develop.
So, is Pakistan serious about peace this time?

It’s difficult to say, but Chidam-baram’s visit has at least opened a window of opportunities. So, even a small forward movement on Mumbai, on which the entire Indo-Pakistani dialogue hinges, will help ease tensions.