Indian Decade

Whither Indo-Pak Ties?

The Pune terrorist attack has come at a bad moment for the Indian government

India has shot itself in the foot with its surprising unilateral initiative to resume bilateral talks with Pakistan. The Pune terror attack on February 13 came ten days after the Indian government made the first official affirmation of its intent to restart dialogue with Pakistan, suspended since the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008. This possibly explains why there was only one attack in Pune and not multiple simultaneous attacks as has been the wont of terrorists. The easy modus operandi of leaving the bomb in a backpack at the targeted location may indicate that the perpetrator could have been a lone wolf.

The February 13 terror attack on German Bakery, a favourite eatery with foreigners in Pune seems to be the direct fallout from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government’s decision of smoking the peace pipe again with Pakistan. It was on February 3 that the first firm indication came from the Indian government about the reversal of its stand on resuming talks with Pakistan. Before that, the Indian leadership had been reiterating that no talks were possible with Pakistan until Islamabad brings the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice. On February 3, India indicated its willingness to resume dialogue with Pakistan, saying even ‘a few steps’ by Islamabad in the Mumbai terror probe will ‘satisfy’ it and will make it easier to carry on business as usual with its neighbour.

What I mean is that after February 3, when India announced its willingness to resume talks with Pakistan, a countdown began for the terrorist groups. Something had to be done to shake off their lethargy of more than 14 months as India hasn’t see any big-ticket terror attack since 26/11. This was in direct contrast to the situation in Pakistan, where bomb blasts have become routine and high-profile terror strikes are no longer few and far between. The ultimate goal of the anti-India terror outfits is to trigger an India-Pakistan war that would, for them, be a welcome diversion from the relentless pounding of al-Qaeda-Taliban positions in Pakistan’s lawless regions of North West Frontier Province and Balochistan by US and Pakistani forces.

Let me now come back to my opening statement that India has shot itself in the foot by going for talks with Pakistan. New Delhi’s decision was arbitrary, illogical and inopportune. The Manmohan Singh government had no diplomatic victory from Pakistan to celebrate on the issue of terror. By its mindless decision to resume talks with Pakistan, without any diplomatic or strategic brownie points having been scored, India has exposed itself to the criticism that it was pushed to the negotiating table by the United States. What happens if more Pune-type terror strikes take place leading up to February 25 when the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan are to meet in New Delhi? Will India go ahead with the talks after more terror attacks?