Just when everyone was getting used to the ‘serve and return, serve and return’ routine between India and Pakistan regarding the post-26/11 investigations, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik has lobbed the ball into India’s court. For the first time, the Pakistani government has admitted to Pakistani involvement in the Mumbai terrorist attacks. This is not the same as admitting to a role by agencies of the Pakistani State. But this isn’t the time for nit-picking. The fact that a minister has stated that “some part of the conspiracy related to the Mumbai attacks was planned in Pakistan,” and that some of those involved were “Lashkar-e-Tayyeba operatives” means Islamabad has moved beyond mere stonewalling. More tangible has been the nine FIRs and six arrests related to 26/11 suspects.
New Delhi should welcome this development as it constitutes a major step forward by Islamabad in accepting that it has the primary role in ensuring justice for Mumbai’s victims. It is obvious that this step is preliminary, that it is many leagues removed from actually punishing the perpetrators of 26/11. However, India needs to recognise that Pakistan is a ruling establishment divided. There are stirrings of debate within that country that the jihadi machinery nurtured in the past several years has run amok both within its own boundaries and outside of it. The civilian dominated side of that debate argues that the terrorist apparatus needs to be brought under control. This side seems to be using Mumbai to move the debate in the right direction. This is why, following this statement, New Delhi should extend carrots rather than sticks to the Pakistani government even while recognising that much more needs to be done before scars can be allowed to form on the wounds left by 26/11. While extradition is more wishful thinking than likelihood, genuine prison sentences for those convicted and sustained action against the institution of the Lashkar should remain on the agenda.
The issue is about what mix of political face-saving and diplomatic pressure needs to be extended to Islamabad over the next few months to get it to take the next few steps. This will be a nuance not easily mastered. Too much overt coercion and there is sure to be a backlash against the civilian regime in Pakistan. Too little coercion and Islamabad will feel it has done enough in India’s eyes and let matters slide.