Published December 24, 2008

If ambassadors do not return the assigned capital, it would mean that the relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated.
Dr. Hasan Askari

The relations between India and Pakistan have run into deep trouble after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. Indian leaders are issuing tough statements almost every day accusing Pakistan of harboring terrorist groups that engage in acts of terrorism in other countries.  The media campaign has also continued unabated. The way this crisis in India-Pakistan relations is handled will go a long way to determine South Asia's security profile and the nature of the society in each state.

 It is interesting to note that within an hour of the Mumbai terrorist attacks Indian media accused the Pakistani state as well as a Pakistan-based militant group of engineering the incident.  The first statements by Indian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister were carefully worded but they pointed finger towards Pakistan.  Most political analysts in Pakistan expected such a reaction because there is an established pattern of Indian reaction to terrorist incidents on its territory, that is, expression of varying degrees of anger against Pakistan, ranging from troop mobilization in 2001-2002 to diplomatic censor to suspension of the bilateral dialogue. There was not much difference in the tempo of official and non-official Indian reaction after the attack on Indian parliament on December 13, 2001. Both launched a massive propaganda against Pakistan in the first couple of months, perhaps to justify India's troop mobilization and suspension of normal interaction with Pakistan.

 The latest crisis raises a fundamental question of what is the reality between Pakistan and India.  Cordiality and normal interaction initiated in 2004 or the traditional hostility with negative historical baggage?  Traditionally, the dialogue process is the usual victim of such an incident which is suspended or slowed down.  This time it was suspended and the official, semi-official and non-official statements exposed the fragility of India-Pakistan friendship. It also showed that distrust and hostility were very deeply rooted in both countries. These negative sentiments could be revived easily.

 The Mumbai type incidents are product of domestic and external factors in the age of transnational terrorist activity.  However, Indians refused to acknowledge if there could be some domestic sources or support bases of terrorism in India.  Nor do they acknowledge that more people were killed in Pakistan in terrorist incidents during 2007-2008 than in India since December 2001.  Given the enormity of the problem these countries cannot cope with religious extremism and terrorism by quarreling with each other on this issue; they need to work together to face such a massive challenge to the state and society.  By venting anger against each other, India and Pakistan play into the hands of militant and extremist groups that do not want normal interaction between the two countries.

 There are a good number of people in both countries that overplay the narrow nationalist political discourses with selective use to history to argue that conflict rather than cooperation is normal interaction and that these countries cannot be friends because they represent diametrically opposed nationalisms and worldview. If such political discourses are to be neutralized the leadership of two countries has to show statesmanship and a long term worldview based on universality of humankind.

Military brinkmanship and war will accentuate the problems between India and Pakistan. There are people in India who advocate dangerous notion of 'surgical airstrikes' of specific targets in Pakistan based on the false assumption that Pakistan's conventional defence, especially air-defence, cannot withstand Indian onslaught. Similarly Indian notions of "Limited War" and the "Cold-Start" are misleading and dangerous courses of action because both India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons.

 The top-level Indian leadership has been issuing strident statements for the last one week. Indian Prime Minister described Pakistan as the epicenter of terrorism. India's Foreign Minister has also issued similar statement, declaring that India could exercise any option if Pakistan did not control the militant groups involved in the Mumbai incident.  The Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, was not far behind her university colleagues in criticizing Pakistan. She said that India had the capability to take a punitive action against Pakistan.

 Indian government summoned back most ambassadors based in other capitals to deliberate on the current crisis in India and Pakistan. This step shows that India has decided to embark on a major diplomatic campaign. Both India and Pakistan have summoned their ambassadors (High Commissioners) for consultation. If these ambassadors do not return the assigned capital, it would mean that the relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated. This would increase tension in Pakistan.

 Pakistan has so far given measured responses to Indian belligerent statements. It is invoking bilateral and multilateral diplomacy to cope with Indian pressures. Pakistani high officials have issued moderate and carefully worded statements on the Mumbai incidents.

 Pakistan strongly believes in conflict resolution through bilateral and multilateral means. Therefore, it offered to take action against Pakistani militants if India provided credible evidence.   It is in constant interaction with major political leaders of the world for coping with the negative fallout of the Mumbai incident.

 Pakistan's strategy of moderation, patience and strong diplomatic interaction is the right approach to deal the current political issues. Hopefully, India's leadership will tone down its rhetoric and assign more importance to dialogue and engagement.