Time to move forward

Editorial April 14, 2010

Pakistan is currently in America’s good books, both concerning our aggressive military campaign against militants at home and in Afghanistan, as well as in regards to our ability to safeguard nuclear technology from terrorists.

Furthermore, the spotlight has of late been on the nuclear summit in Washington where both Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh participated and met briefly on the sidelines.

The ‘meeting’ was in fact more of a handshake between the two leaders, a gesture some more optimistic analysts regard as more telling than the actual conference rhetoric. And while the summit positioned the US as a tentative, nebulous mediator between Pakistan and India, Dr Singh did manage to tell President Barack Obama that his country had several preconditions for resuming substantive talks with Pakistan.

Most of these relate to the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 with India plainly saying that no dialogue will be possible unless Pakistan makes progress on apprehending those behind the attacks. And in recent days, New Delhi has also been pressing America to extradite or at least allow access to David C Headley, suspected of being involved in the attacks, as well as a crackdown by Pakistan on the Lakshar-e-Taiba (LeT).

In addition, India is concerned that the American aid pumped into Pakistan for fighting militants might be used against Indian interests and activity in Afghanistan, essentially making it a proxy for India-Pakistan fighting. US prosecutors have already promised not to extradite Headley in exchange for his guilty plea, and it remains to be seen whether the Indians are actually allowed access to him.

As far as the LeT is concerned, one recognises that a lot more could be done to close its operations down but that is sadly not happening. The organisation is quietly – and sometimes not so quietly – continuing its operations raising funding from ordinary Pakistanis.

During the summit Prime Minister Gilani did say – and he has said this quite a few times before – that those responsible for the Mumbai attacks would be “brought to justice”. That said, it is clear that both sides are still not seeing eye-to-eye and that as long as this happens the lives of over a billion and a half people will continue to be held hostage by mistrust and animosity.

India needs to take what Pakistan is saying at face value and Pakistan needs to act on its promises to prosecute all those – men and organisations – involved in the Mumbai attacks. Some people were charged last year but the case has not made much headway. There cannot and should not be any dithering on this particular matter because for talks to move forward Islamabad needs to – even if tacitly – accept that this is the minimum it needs to do to get India talking again.

As for New Delhi, it needs to understand that Pakistan can and will have its own strategic interests in the region, especially Afghanistan, and that this reality has to be accepted.