When the prime ministers of India and Pakistan met in Thimpu in early May, Yousuf Raza Gilani indicated he had the full support of Pakistan’s military to resume the dialogue with India. But by the time the foreign ministers of the two countries met in mid-July, the men in khaki had become opposed to any dialogue.
Three developments, say sources in both countries, led them to change their minds. The first was the political resurgence of President Asif Ali Zardari. The Pakistan military has sought to marginalise him at the expense of Gilani and their favourite politician, ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
But Zardari’s recent successes in working out long-standing disputes between the Centre and the provinces over water and finance, and the holding of genuine elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, have resurrected his standing at the popular level.
Second was David Coleman Headley’s testimony. The transcript handed over by Home Minister P Chidambaram in late June was damning in how much it showed the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence’s direct link to the Mumbai 26/11 attack. This infuriated the Pakistani military, not least because it potentially put them at a disadvantage in their own struggle with Zardari.
Third was the attack by the Punjabi Taliban on the Data Durbar shrine in Lahore on July 1. Among the holiest of Barelvi Muslim shrines in Pakistan, it put the military in a dilemma. The militant groups behind the blast were also political allies of Sharif.
But the outcry among the Barelvis has been so strong that it is reported in Pakistan that the military has ordered action to be taken against lower level Punjabi Taliban cadre.
By the time Foreign Minister SM Krishna arrived in Islamabad, the military’s view about the dialogue with India had shifted from support to strong reservations.
One reason, say sources in Pakistan, was their feeling that a successful dialogue with India would only add another feather to Zardari’s cap. India’s forceful play of the Headley card tipped the scales decisively against dialogue. The ISI link was bad enough, but India’s insistence on some sort of action against the Lashkar e Tayyeba over 26/11 was a red flag.
At a time when the military was moving to take action against the Punjabi Taliban, it was impossible for it to concede even rhetorical moves against Lashkar, the largest Punjabi militant group. The Pakistani army and broader establishment is not interested in making headway with India at this point, say sources in Pakistan.
Foreign Minister SM Qureshi’s comment on Sunday that he would visit India only for “meaningful, result-oriented talks” and not for a “leisure trip” — knowing well that progress in India-Pakistan dialogue can only be slow and incremental — further endorses this view.
The military’s position is that it would prefer to wait until Sharif rules in Islamabad before taking up India again.
The Indian Foreign Ministry’s expectations had been based on Gilani’s Thimpu statements and his seeming consolidation of power following the passage of the 18th constitutional amendment.
The impact of Zardari’s political resurrection and the shrine attack may have been missed.
New Delhi now has a clearer understanding that the military remains directly and forcefully involved in running the show in Islamabad, admit officials, especially when it comes to relations with India.
The military’s political games at home, however, mean dialogue will not be high on its priority list and make medium-term prospects for the Indo-Pakistan peace process bleak.