Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s hope that Pakistan would take at least token action against the head of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and, thus, allow Mr Singh to restart dialogue between the two countries has been belied. It was no surprise that the Lahore High Court dropped the charges of incitement — that were poorly framed by Islamabad — against Mohammad Hafiz Saeed. As Saeed’s lawyer argued, the incitement charge had been designed to “appease India” after the more substantive charge of masterminding the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack foundered. In the earlier case as well, there was discernable apathy among the Pakistani authorities about collecting evidence against Saeed.
There can be many arguments as to why Islamabad is seemingly prepared to sacrifice dialogue with India and, more importantly, ignore pressure from Washington. One school is that the civilian and military arms of government are at odds.
So, despite the best of intentions, there is little that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari can do about bringing Saeed and his cohorts to book. Another school is that the Pakistani establishment continues to see the Lashkar as one of the shrinking circles of militants who still obey Islamabad and, therefore, can be used to leverage against India. Others say that the domestic political cost of fighting the so-called Pakistan Taliban and allowing the United States to carry out drone attacks on Pakistani soil makes it impossible for Islamabad to take on the Lashkar. The truth is probably a combination of all three — and other factors that remain unfathomable. What matters is the end result: that those responsible for Mumbai are likely to escape any punishment other than having their photographs taken repeatedly outside a courthouse.
The other consequence is that Mr Singh’s policy towards Pakistan, still tainted by the Sharm el-Sheikh fiasco, continues to float several metres above the ground realities of Pakistan. Mr Singh’s belief that the two countries need to find a new basis for dialogue is based on a mutual acceptance that Pakistan’s domestic strife is the region’s overriding threat is sound. The problem is that there is no evidence — in fact, there is much to the contrary — that suggests that anyone on the other side of the border is in a position to share and implement his vision.