Confusion in Delhi

India has not been able to say yes or no to continuing engagement with Pakistan

Confusion in Delhi
Islamabad made a last minute effort on Wednesday to salvage the upcoming Pakistan-India foreign secretaries meeting that had looked increasingly uncertain because of Indian allegations about Pakistan based militants’ involvement in Pathankot terrorist attack. Pakistan announced that it had initiated a crackdown on Jaish-e-Muhammad.

“Based on the initial investigations in Pakistan, and the information provided, several individuals belonging to Jaish-e-Muhammad have been apprehended. The offices of the organization are also being traced and sealed. Further investigations are underway,” said a statement issued after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a meeting on national security.

It was also decided to dispatch a team of investigators to Pathankot for collecting evidence related to the attack.

But it was not clear until the filing of this report if the meeting between the two foreign secretaries would be held on January 15 as decided earlier - a date that was also communicated to National Assembly by Foreign Office in response to a question by a member. The move, nevertheless, paved the way for the meeting to take place.

In a telephone conversation with his counterpart Narendra Modi days after the Pathankot incident, Mr Sharif had pledged action against the elements found to be involved. He had conveyed the same assurances to US Secretary of State John Kerry, who had called last Saturday to emphasize the continuation of the re-engagement.

But Delhi had looked unsure all long about what position to take.

Confusion has characterized Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy, but it was seldom as stark as was exhibited by Delhi ahead of the planned January 15 meeting. The foreign secretaries of the two countries were to meet to decide the timetable and modalities for the peace dialogue they had agreed to resume.
A transparent investigation will serve Pakistan's own interest

By Wednesday, when the two sides should have been focused on firming up their suggestions and discussion points, the prospects of the talks going ahead were still uncertain. India, which had linked the meeting to Pakistan taking ‘firm and decisive action’ against Jaish-e-Muhammad – the militant group it suspects to be behind Pathankot strike, was still unclear whether or not it was satisfied with Islamabad’s response to its demands.

“The Pakistani government has assured that it will take effective action. I think we should wait…There is no reason to distrust them so early,” India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh said.

Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s reported comments about the talks being cancelled, which he later denied, only strengthened the impression of the absence of clarity in Delhi. The clarification that Mr Doval subsequently gave was in essence no different from the original statement published by Hindi publication Dainik Bhaskar. Mr Doval, while clarifying said, “we will talk only if Pakistan takes action”.

The Indian government was accepting Pakistani assurances on one hand, while on the other, it appeared disinclined to trust Islamabad for delivering on its pledges, which it had made not only to the Indian government but also to the international backers of this re-engagement. Many found this indecision perplexing.

Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi was particularly critical of the BJP government’s approach. He said: “Now we are days away, and we do not know. This is not the way national security should be conducted. This is not the way foreign affairs should be conducted… Please tell me when in Indian foreign policy have we been so much at sea and in darkness about yes or no.”

The confusion in Delhi was due to multiple factors. Firstly, the international pressure for remaining engaged with Pakistan; secondly, the domestic politics where BJP does not want to be seen to be soft on Pakistan; thirdly, PM Modi’s now personal involvement with the process, particularly after his December 25 ‘surprise’ visit to Lahore, and lastly, the international environment where world powers aren’t expected to put pressure on Pakistan due to other regional dynamics, specifically Afghanistan.

At the same time, the Indians realize that disengaging with Pakistan would not pay off either. The previous approach of not talking has not worked. The commitments on expediting the Mumbai trial, the latest given when Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Islamabad for Heart of Asia Conference, came only when the two countries sat down to talk.

Moreover, attacks have historically happened both during periods of engagement and disengagement. Suspending bilateral dialogue only incentivizes terrorism, because terrorists do not want the normalization process to begin.

Pakistan on its part needs to do more to reassure India that its concerns are being addressed. Delhi provided ‘leads’ about the attackers’ origin and links in Pakistan. The government rightly did not reject the information and agreed to investigate it. But, Islamabad needs to be seen as pursuing those leads. Being transparent in the investigation will not be a favour to India. It will serve Pakistan’s own interest.