Is Indian “patience” paying off over Mumbai?

January 9, 2009

Shortly after the Mumbai attacks, I asked whether India faced a trial of patience in persuading Pakistan — with help from the United States — to take action against the Islamist militants it blamed for the assault on its financial capital. India’s approach of relying on American diplomacy rather than launching military action led to some  soul-searching among Indian analysts when it failed to deliver immediate results.  But is it finally beginning to bear fruit?

Former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar writes in the Asia Times that diplomatic efforts over the Mumbai attacks are entering a crucial phase. ”After having secured New Delhi’s assurance that India will not resort to a military strike against Pakistan, Washington is perceptibly stepping up pressure on Islamabad to act on the available evidence regarding the Mumbai attacks.”

Earlier this week, Pakistan admitted that the lone surviving Mumbai gunman, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, was a Pakistani. The head of Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services intelligence or ISI, also gave a conciliatory interview to German magazine Der Spiegel.  Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha ruled out the possibility of war with India. “We may be crazy in Pakistan, but not completely out of our minds. We know full well that terror is our enemy, not India,” Dawn newspaper quoted him as saying.

Indian newspapers have seen Pakistan’s acceptance of Kasab’s nationality as a step in the right direction, while recognising that further progress will be slow. ”The admission by Pakistan is also an indicator for the establishment that the diplomatic pressure is finally getting some results,”  the Economic Times said. “But New Delhi is also aware that it will take a lot of time and effort to push Pakistan to take even small steps.”

So how is that going to play out in the context of a new administration taking over in Washington, a government in Delhi coming to the end of its term and facing elections due by May, and a civilian government in Pakistan still trying to find its feet after years of military rule?.

Bhadrakumar says that “the United States could be on the threshold of a big breakthrough in the geopolitics of the South Asian region” if it succeeds in convincing Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants while also nudging India and Pakistan to work together to put their relationship on a sounder footing.

But that will require quick work by the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama, which according to the New York Times is likely to include the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy for India and Pakistan, and a further trial of patience for the outgoing Congress-led government in Delhi.

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