India turns up the heat on Pakistan, where will this end?

November 29, 2008

The language is deliberate, the signals unmistakable: India is turning up the heat on Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks that have  killed at least 195 people, and there is no knowing where this downward spiral in ties between the uneasy neighbours will end.

Beginning with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s warning that a cost will have to be paid by neighbouring nations that allow militants to operate,  to Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s direct call to Islamabad to “dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism”, there is a sharp, cold edge to the tone that you can’t miss even factoring in the immediate anger and sense of outrage the attacks have evoked  across India.

Then the signs: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in India on a previously scheduled visit to review the peace process packing his bags and heading home because Indian political leaders cancelled meetings with him following the attacks.

We have been here before, for sure. A 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, for which like the Mumbai attacks, the  Lashkar-i-Taiba was blamed, triggered a set of measures by New Delhi including breaking sporting and cultural links, downgrading diplomatic relations, and the deployment of the military in full combat readiness all along the Pakistan border.

That military stand-off ended six months later after considerable diplomatic pressure from the United States, Britain and other powers worried about two nuclear-armed nations on the brink of war.

So what are the options for Delhi this time around, beyond striking a menacing posture to force Pakistan to go after elements there which it believes are responsible for violence in India?

It can’t risk another extended military deployment – you can only do that sort of “coercive diplomacy” once a while for it to be taken seriously. Limited military strikes on the militant camps that New Delhi says exist across the border?

The New York Times raised that possibility following what were arguably the most audacious attacks India has ever seen even its violent history as a free nation.  It’s hard to tell, especially now that those training camps don’t exist so openly, given the Americans’ scrutiny of Pakistan. And India has always been reluctant to cross the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, fearing this would undermine its status as a de facto border and basis for a permament settlement to the Kashmir dispute.

Ending a five-year ceasefire along the Line of Control, which has in recent months comeunder strain? Or a freezing of ties, turning back the four year-peace process which if nothing else ensured the foes kept talking?

All bets are obviously off . The Times said American military and intelligence officials believed there was mounting evidence that the Lashkar–Taiba was most likely involved in the Mumbai attack. That can only strengthen New Delhi’s case as it confronts Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence with evidence when its representative arrives in India to discuss the attacks, itself an extraordinary move.

Islamabad had earlier agreed to send the head of the ISI to India but it later lowered that to a representative.
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