Journalist | Writer | Analyst
4 June 2009
India looking at dialogue option on Pakistan again
New Delhi: Notwithstanding the Lahore High Court decision to release Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed from house arrest this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna have begun the process of reviewing India’s diplomatic options vis-À-vis Pakistan.
In particular, the big question being examined is how viable and desirable the strategy of suspending dialogue with Pakistan still is in the face of the increasingly fragmented nature of political authority in that country and the mounting perception worldwide that India needs to engage with its neighbour. “We should not negotiate out of fear but we should not fear negotiations either,” a well-placed source told The Hindu on Wednesday morning while providing a foretaste of the different options now under consideration at the highest levels of the government.
“We need to talk about terrorism, whether we can zero in on the question of combating terror,” the source said.
Since the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008, India has stuck to the position that there will be no resumption of dialogue with Pakistan until the “infrastructure of terrorism” in that country is dismantled and the perpetrators and masterminds of the incident are brought to justice.
“It may not be possible for India to insist, in the face of pressure from other countries, that we will talk only when these two conditions are fulfilled,” the source said.
At the same time, officials cautioned against any early easing of the Indian position, especially in the light of the recent release of Saeed. The government accepts the argument that the Pakistani judiciary is independent-minded and even activist and will not easily do the bidding of the executive. But South Block will wait and see whether the government goes in appeal against the Lahore ruling and a fresh and more robust effort made to detain the LeT chief before committing itself to a new line of action.
“Our policy is continuously under review but as of today, I am not in a position to say India is ready to change its position on the resumption of dialogue,” the source said.
One big concern for Indian policymakers remains the attitude of the United States. “We have still not been able to strike a constructive relationship with the Obama administration to see if they are going to be of assistance,” the source said. “It is in this context that the visit [to India next month] of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assumes importance. We will then have concrete exchanges, and find out where they stand.”
Apart from Saeed’s fate, the Indian side will also closely monitor developments on two other legal fronts: the criminal case against LeT activists such as Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and others for their involvement in Mumbai, and the status of official restrictions on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, as the LeT is called now.
The JuD was banned pursuant to the U.N. Security Council adding the organisation to a list of terrorist entities subject to mandatory legal action under Resolution 1267. Though the resolution calls only for an arms embargo and assets freeze of proscribed groups and a travel ban on designated individuals, it does not require the arrest of anyone other than Osama bin Laden. In a case of non-application of mind or deliberate oversight, Saeed was held last year not under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws but on the basis of a preventive detention order citing the U.N. resolution, a legal position that was difficult to sustain. This error can always be rectified.
However, the JuD and its backers are likely to press ahead with a case to have the restrictions on the organisation itself lifted.
While India is more or less reconciled to the prospect of Saeed being treated with kid gloves, the question being asked is whether the mere absence of dialogue will help push Islamabad towards taking stricter action or not. So far, the assessment is that Pakistan acts only when the U.S. puts pressure on it. But with Washington confident about New Delhi not escalating the present standoff, the requisite pressure on the Pakistani establishment may not be forthcoming.
Worse, South Block is likely to find itself coming under pressure to relax what the world will see as an unhelpfully rigid stand. Rather than acting on the basis of international demands, therefore, India might see some advantage in being flexible on its own terms.