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Positive vibes from India?

Positive vibes from India?

IN the case of Pak-India relations, it seemingly is always a case of either going round in circles or, worse, one step forward, two steps back. Earlier this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his most positive comments on the bilateral relationship since becoming prime minister, in a newspaper interview, by referring to his government’s willingness to engage in dialogue and then specifically mentioning the Shimla accord and the Lahore declaration as the frameworks within which India could conduct dialogue. The Shimla accord has long been hostage to differences between Pakistan and India on a key interpretation — does it allow for international, third-party mediation or does it strictly require bilateral negotiations only? But the Lahore declaration, tellingly, signed by the last BJP government in power, offers much more common ground and one that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself remains wedded to. Then, came the release on bail here of the alleged architect of the 2008 Mumbai attack, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi of the Jamaatud Dawa/Lashkar-e-Taiba, throwing a fresh hurdle in the possibility of dialogue between Pakistan and India resuming anytime soon.

The release of Lakhvi has sparked the usual round of accusations and recriminations between the foreign policy establishment of both countries. With the Indian Ministry of External Affairs taking a tough line, the Pakistan Foreign Office responded by suggesting that the case against Lakhvi would have been stronger had India cooperated with Pakistan and offered it greater access to the evidence India claims to have gathered on the attacks. A predictable back-and-forth in a scenario where perhaps no one, not even within the Pakistani government, would suggest that the release of Lakhvi at this time is a step in the right direction. More importantly, however, Prime Minister Modi himself declined the opportunity to directly assail Pakistan in a news conference with French President François Hollande, referring instead to the need for global action against terrorism when the issue of the Mumbai suspect was raised. At the very least, then, the Indian government does not appear immediately ready to return to the bellicose route it has taken with Pakistan for the most part of Mr Modi’s tenure so far. Perhaps, as a recent internal BJP declaration on foreign policy suggests, the BJP government is coming around to the long-understood logic of the need to engage Pakistan rather than hold it at arm’s length.

Within Pakistan though there remains quite a bit of reckoning to be done. The release of Lakhvi suggests a total breakdown of all aspects of the state doing their job: the political government, the security establishment and the superior judiciary. The evidence against Lakhvi was, for the most part, locally gathered and his prosecution depended on the Pakistani state demonstrating some resolve. If such a high-profile case is so poorly handled, what does that say about Pakistan’s overall ability to fight militancy?

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2015

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