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Shaking off Islamabad

Bombers in Kabul blow a hole in India’s largest overseas aid programme. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the country that provides most of India’s imported petroleum. Pakistan is the proverbial ghost at the banquet in both cases.

india Updated: Mar 03, 2010 00:30 IST

Bombers in Kabul blow a hole in India’s largest overseas aid programme. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the country that provides most of India’s imported petroleum. Pakistan is the proverbial ghost at the banquet in both cases. It seems likely that Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani was behind the Kabul attack that led to nine Indian deaths. Haqqani carried out both the July 2008 and October 2009 attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul at the direct behest of the Pakistani military. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil producer, has large reserves of natural gas, is geographically next door, and manages its energy sector far more professionally than rivals like Iran. Yet it has taken an Indian prime minister nearly three decades to visit the Saudi kingdom. The Saudis are suspected to have a military — even a nuclear — and strategic relationship with Pakistan. Islamic charities in the Gulf country help fund militant causes in Pakistan, including the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT). Mr Singh’s visit came to be dominated by Indian hopes that Riyadh would act as a curb on Pakistan’s continued support for terrorism.

This reflects how restrictive Pakistan’s violent obsession with India has become to the foreign policy goals of Delhi. Among larger nations, Afghanistan’s populace is probably alone in giving India the highest approval ratings of any country in the world. Yet India’s relations with that country are dominated by the quasi-war Pakistan is waging against the present regime in Kabul. Islamabad tells the world it cannot give up on the Taliban and the LeT because of India. Between terrorism and political blackmail, Pakistan has ensured that Af-Pak remains tenuously hyphenated with Pak-Ind.

A slightly different state of affairs exists regarding Saudi Arabia. Saudi fears of Iranian domination led it to seek a military deterrent. Pakistan was ready to be a nuclear gun for hire, especially if the hiring included plenty of oil, money and backing for its militant groups. Saudi Arabia would be a natural energy partner for India. But its strategic need for a subterranean relationship with Islamabad has ensured a bilateral wariness. India needs to disentangle its regional policy from Pakistan’s net. Providing support to the US deployment in Afghanistan would be an obvious way to counteract Pakistan there. As is the development of an economic relationship with Saudi Arabia to counterbalance its security ties with Pakistan. But more systematic thought and strategic imagination is needed, one that cross-leverages relations with other countries and eventually entangles Pakistan in a web of India’s making.