Sunday, July 18, 2010

India and Pakistan’s Strained Ties

It took just a few hours after a strained but polite press conference for the truth to out. The two foreign ministers had concluded their meeting by Thursday evening. On Friday Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, held a fresh press conference on his own, in which he lambasted his Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna. Given that Mr Krishna was still in the country, this was a real slap in the diplomatic face.

Speaking on the eve of the meeting India’s home secretary (the interior ministry’s top bureaucrat), G.K. Pillai, had ventured to blame Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), for the terrorist attack that befell Mumbai in November 2008. Mr Krishna chose to let that incendiary allegation lie. Following lengthy talks with Mr Qureshi, he declared only that India wanted a “peaceful, stable and prosperous Pakistan”.

“No common ground found” was the headline in Friday’s Dawn, which summed up the ambient disappointment. The summit had engendered high hopes for some kind of breakthrough. Those expectations curdled quickly.

India is not yet ready to resume talking about the full range of disputes between the countries. The stumbling block is terrorism—and the Mumbai attack in particular. New Delhi’s diplomats believe that Pakistan hasn’t done what it could to crack down on the anti-India extremist groups that operate from its territory. Their suspicion is worsened by new disclosures from one of the suspects, extracted by an American interrogation, to the effect that that ISI was minutely involved in planning the Mumbai attacks.

India tried to isolate Pakistan after Mumbai. But the West needs Pakistan, and urgently, thanks to the mess in Afghanistan. Having given up on isolation, India’s next move is to apply pressure on Pakistan through engagement. The frustration here is that the newish civilian leadership in Islamabad cannot deliver the goods on terrorism: it is simply not in their hands. Pakistan’s all-powerful army, which does not trust the government of the president, Asif Zardari, in effect controls security policy single-handedly. And it does not see India as a potential friend.
The Economist

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