The government has come up with three explanations for the about-turn that India has done in the meeting between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan at Sharm-el-Sheikh. The first is that there is no about-turn at all. The second (which contradicts the first) is that the shift in stance is in response to Pakistan admitting for the first time, in a 36-page dossier that it has handed over to India, that the Lashkar-e-Toiba carried out the attack on Mumbai in November, and that the Pak government will move against the LeT in a day or so. The third is from an unnamed official who has been quoted in a newspaper as saying: “There is an assumption that Pakistan’s willingness to tackle terrorism will be weakened by the delinking. Critics should consider the possibility that the opposite will happen.”
Of the three, it is clear that the first explanation (or rather, the denial) should be discarded. It is of a piece with what India has done in the G-8/G-5 meeting in Italy: shift ground on climate change negotiations, then deny that it has done any such thing. If a government feels the need to change tack—and let us accept that positions need not be immutable or there would never be any negotiations—it should say so clearly and give the reasons to a questioning public, not do-and-deny.
The second explanation has some plausibility, though it could also be a linkage made as post facto justification. The problem this poses is the inconvenient fact that Hafeez Muhammad Saeed is roaming free, with the Punjab government even withdrawing its appeal against the court judgment. So if the Pak government is claiming in private that it is going to move against the LeT, there will have to be some evidence of this if the government’s explanation is to wash.
The real explanation is likely to be the third one—the Prime Minister has taken a calculated gamble in holding out the carrot of resuming the “comprehensive” dialogue, in the hope that the prospect of getting something at the negotiating table will make Islamabad tell the Inter-Services Intelligence to rein in the LeT. Read this with what President Musharraf has told Karan Thapar: “These Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, they are all there because of Kashmir…We have to take a holistic view of terrorism and extremism and solve it from the roots in the long-term perspective.”
This should be compared with the unconditional promise that Mr Musharraf made before the dialogue process began, that Pakistani soil would not be used for cross-border terrorism. It is a reiteration of that promise that India has sought since November, along with action against those guilty of the November attack. What we now have in its place is a conditional premise rather than a promise: the cross-border terrorists will not be there if India settles Kashmir. The two propositions are quite different.
It could be argued that the stand-off since November is not likely to deliver any more results, so it is time to change tack. Perhaps, but Pakistan has a history of trying first to get what it wants on the battlefield and, when that fails, to get it at the negotiating table. Mr Musharraf beliefs that he succeeded with his Kargil attack because it brought India to the negotiating table. Indian leaders meanwhile fall into the traps of magnanimity (make a gesture to a smaller neighbour) or gullibility (concede this or that, and it will deliver peace). Indira Gandhi signed away her trump card at Shimla in 1972, and before her Lal Bahadur Shastri handed back the Haji Pir pass, at Tashkent in 1966. Atal Behari Vajpayee nearly did something similar at Agra. One presumes that Manmohan Singh knows this history.