On February 10, India and Pakistan announced that they would resume peace talks that were suspended after Pakistan-based terrorists attacked multiple sites in Mumbai in November 2008, killing 170 people. Washington welcomed the announcement, no doubt hoping that détente between the two nuclear neighbours might lead them to end their proxy war in Afghanistan, and leave Pakistan better able to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda on its own soil.
But it’s much too early to get carried away. After all, diplomacy conducted under terrorism’s shadow can backfire, and should there be another attack on Indian soil, Indian policymakers—even those in favour of reconciliation—may well conclude they have no partner in Pakistan, bringing the prospect of conflict closer.
It’s also not at all clear that Pakistan really is sincere in its desire for rapprochement. The country has reportedly doubled its nuclear arsenal over the last four years, and is believed to be building its fourth plutonium reactor. Western nations should be troubled that a country that professes to be committed to fighting Islamic militants at home has decided to focus so much attention on developing its nuclear prowess instead.
Indians should also be concerned. On July 15, 2010,India and Pakistan’s foreign ministers met in Islamabad supposedly in order to ‘restore trust.’ But the talks collapsed in acrimony, with the Indian side claiming that Pakistan had failed to move to resolve differences over the prosecution of anti-India terrorist groups operating from its territory. Just ahead of these talks, Indian Home Secretary G. K. Pillai had claimed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had played a ‘much more significant’ role in the Mumbai attacks than was initially thought, adding that he believed Pakistan was ‘coordinating it from the beginning till the end.’
Testimony by captured alleged Pakistani-American terrorist David Headley appeared to support Pillai’s claims, with Headley reportedly telling FBI interrogators that the ISI went so far as ‘choosing the weapons to be used in the attack.’
If all this is true, then there can be no serious diplomacy until Pakistan stops seeking to leverage Islamist militancy as a weapon in Kashmir and against India. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and similar groups continue to operate freely in Pakistan. Last February, for example, LeT’s leader Hafiz Saeed led a 10,000-strong procession in Lahore to mark ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’ and warned India to ‘liberate’ Kashmir or face jihad. Indeed, he also signalled a possible expansion of conflict, suggesting that the group might broaden its operations to the southern Indian—and largely Muslim—district of Hyderabad.
But it isn’t just militant leaders who are troubling Indian policymakers. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political party, currently in control of Pakistan’s Punjab provincial government, appears to be promoting militancy, at least judging by its official budget last year. As the BBC reported at the time, the government allocated $1 million to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity on the UN terrorism watch list and a Lashkar-e-Taiba front group.
The reality is that many Pakistani political leaders don’t seem to want to move forward on talks. Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, President Asif Ali Zardari, and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani have all appeared sincere, but they seem to lack even the limited control that former President and army chief Pervez Musharraf wielded over the military and intelligence apparatus during his tenure. Meanwhile, the man currently in charge of Pakistan’s military—Gen. Ashfaq Kayani—appears to show no interest in détente, conceding in his own words that he has an ‘India-centric’ bias to his military strategy.
In theory, Indo-Pakistani diplomatic engagement is a must for regional security. In 2007, talks came close to reaching an agreement on the Kashmir dispute before being derailed by terrorism and domestic political unrest in Pakistan. But Indian diplomats shouldn’t succumb to the exuberance of rapid-fire talks so long as a disconnect remains between Pakistani civilian leaders and their military and intelligence establishment.
The same goes for the White House and State Department—hopes should not be placed on regional security talks without proper conditions for lasting progress being in place first. And the most important of these conditions? Ensuring a complete and no-nonsense end to any proxy support for terrorism at all levels of the Pakistani government.
Ahmad Majidyar and Apoorva Shah are researchers in South Asia studies at the American Enterprise Institute.