The filing of a second chargesheet in Pakistan against five Lashkar-e-Tayyeba members, the dossier handed over to India outlining Lashkar’s guilt and the sudden admission of guilt by Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab allow Indians to consider, however fitfully, the possibility that Islamabad may actually act against the masterminds of Mumbai 26/11. The chargesheet is especially significant because it names Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, Lashkar’s operations chief. Lakhvi is behind a long list of terrorist atrocities against India, including the 2006 Mumbai train bombings and many attacks in Kashmir. More important is that Lashkar is the terrorist group with the closest relationship to the Pakistani military. Kasab’s confession, and his specific reference to Lakhvi’s role, contributes to a climate of guilt.
The most optimistic school would say all this shows that the government of President Asif Ali Zardari is genuinely interested in tackling terrorism. It would represent a vindication of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s gamble at Sharm-el-Sheikh to delink terrorism from the composite dialogue. A more pessimistic interpretation would be to see this as another half-hearted attempt by Islamabad to deflect international pressure while avoiding substantive action against its domestic jihadi war machine. The reality is probably in between. Mr Zardari certainly wants to take on the Taliban and its ilk. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that he has the authority to carry out sustained action against a group so close to Pakistan’s all-powerful military. But India can afford two cheers if the combination of international pressure, growing Pakistani unease over Islamicist violence and whatever authority Mr Zardari can muster results in a few body blows against the Lashkar.
Pakistan, terrorism and the link between can never have clear-cut answers. Which is why India must tolerate half-measures, boomerang manoeuvres and inexplicable twists when it comes to Islamabad. Thus Pakistan is now taking India to task for supposedly fomenting acts in Balochistan. New Delhi can afford to ride with these punches: Balochistan is a cesspool of illegalities regarding accession to Pakistan and a vast archive of Pakistani human rights violations and political repression. It is just possible that Islamabad is amassing political capital by bashing India, capital it will use to take decisive action against Lashkar. India will have to wait to see if its neighbour has taken a new turn or is merely recycling an old one.