Furthering Indo-US dialogue on Pakistan

No substantial result was achieved at the foreign secretary level talks between India and Pakistan, held on 27 July. It was not expected either. The dialogue was held on predicted lines, the problem areas were overlooked and the two sides soaked in the warmth of an apparent bonhomie. Pakistan foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar dominated media headlines more for her Jane Birkin handbag, the Chanel sunglasses and the diamonds and pearls, rather than issues of bilateral interest. 

On the contrary, the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s visit to New Delhi following the 13 July serial bomb blasts in Mumbai, has thrown open the opportunity to commence urgent high level dialogue on how to best deal Pakistan, the proverbial sick man of the region, before we face another major strategic crisis.

None has claimed responsibility for the 13 July attacks which killed 21 and injured over 140. The attacks, however, came following growing calls by the Lashkar e Tayyiba (LeT) leadership for attacking Indian and US targets, ever since the death of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad in May. LeT leader Hafeez Saeed was the first to openly mourn the death of Laden. Since then, his group, which executed the 2008 Mumbai attacks, have been overtly vocal in calling for similar attacks on both India and the US. He has organised rallies to demand Islamabad cut off peace talks with New Delhi, shut all NATO supply lines via Pakistan to Afghanistan, halt the drone attacks and extend him legal help for fighting a court battle at New York, filed by the US victims of 26/11, where he is named as a mastermind behind the attack with the Pak intelligence chief. 

Pakistan, characteristically, has done nothing to curb the radical posturing of LeT. For Islamabad, it was wise to anticipate the worst and hold a soft dialogue with New Delhi on the possible strategic shocks that could be witnessed in Pakistan. The Khar-Krishna talks was an opportunity for New Delhi to discuss the strategic shocks that could emerge in Pakistan, maybe within the next two years, ways to minimise their likelihood and what could be done, should they happen despite the best intentions to the contrary. Possible strategic shocks that can’t be ruled out from Pakistan includes another successful strike on the US hinterland akin to the May 2010 car bomb attack in New York, a successful mass casualty strike on India or a repeat of the 26/11 or worse still, a coup in Islamabad that forges to power a modern-day avatar of Zia ul Huq, a fanatic ruler who supports jihad. 

All these probable scenarios are distinct possibilities. New Delhi and Washington must now talk about what could be done for minimising the likelihood of such possibilities and how to tackle them, should they occur. The famous Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott dialogue could be a fine model for what needs to be done in the future. These have to be free-ranging senior level talks, held over an expansive length of time. The aim isn’t to reach concrete decisions on what to be done in the case of contingencies, but explore ideas and conceptualise possible options.

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