Stabilizing India-Pakistan Relations

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By Michael Krepon – Israeli-Palestinian relations have become an object lesson of missed opportunities, failed leadership, and wretched score settling.  After decades of painstaking U.S. efforts to clarify the basic outlines of a diplomatic settlement, the Israeli Prime Minister unhelpfully declared his readiness to negotiate “without preconditions,” his Palestinian counterpart announced his intention to throw in the towel, and Gaza has descended into chaos and despair.   By comparison, India and Pakistan are doing just fine.  Until, of course, their next explosive crisis.  

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often and rightly declared that stability in Pakistan is of vital importance to India, but New Delhi has done very little to promote stability with its troubled neighbor since their “composite dialogue” was suspended a year ago, after ten gunmen who were trained and based in Pakistan terrorized Mumbai for three days, killing over 170 people.  

New Delhi’s reluctance to re-engage Islamabad is understandable.  Mumbai has suffered four mass casualty attacks since 1993, when the stock exchange and other targets were bombed, killing over 250 people.  In 2003, the financial district was again struck by bomb blasts that killed over 50 individuals, and in 2006, terrorist attacks directed against mass transit killed and injured nearly 1,000 commuters.  The November 2008 strikes, like the train bombings, were linked to Lashkar-e-Toiba.  They clarified, yet again, India’s lack of preparedness to deal with mass casualty terrorism and Pakistan’s prior record of using extremist groups as surrogates to punish India. 

Lashkar-e-Toiba and its amir, Hafez Saeed, are at the center of New Delhi’s complaints about Pakistan and reluctance to resume a dialogue.  LeT was created in 1989-1990 with funding by Pakistan’s security establishment to destabilize the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.  It took an attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 to prompt the State Department to add LeT to its list of foreign terrorist organizations and for Pakistan to “ban” this organization.  Nonetheless, it continues under new names and under Hafez Saeed’s leadership. 

Saeed was detained after the Parliament attack, the Mumbai train bombings, and again after the November 2008 attacks.  In each case, he was released for lack of prosecutorial evidence.  Seven operatives linked to LeT are currently on trial for the November 2008 killing spree, but not Hafez Saeed.

After the 2001 attack on Parliament, the Indian government demanded that Pakistan hand over twenty of the worst practitioners of cross-border terrorism.  This list of big-wigs included Hafez Saeed.  Making demands that will not be met can be a self-defeating tactic, as is withholding dialogue that could yield dividends.  In 2004, New Delhi agreed to resume bilateral talks with Pakistan on terrorism and other central issues.
Now India demands a trial of Hafez Saeed and that Pakistan “do more” to deal with the terror network on its soil before talks will resume.  It is extremely difficult for Pakistani — or Indian — authorities to bring to trial well-connected big-wigs with damaging stories to tell.  In high-profile cases, judicial proceedings typically extend for very long periods of time and are usually inconclusive.
Hafez Saeed, like A.Q. Khan, remains an albatross around the necks of Pakistan’s political leaders and national security establishment.  Whenever a mass casualty act of terrorism occurs whose perpetrators are linked back to the LeT or other groups like it, Pakistan mortgages its future, loosing standing, foreign direct investment and economic growth. 

Pakistan is also suffering high casualties due to its prior investments in LeT and related organizations.  The database provided by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center’s Worldwide Incidents Tracking System now indicates a growing disparity in pain and casualties between Pakistan and India resulting from acts of terrorism:



Number of Attacks
India 905 744 361
Pakistan 889 1838 1145
Number of Fatalities
2007 2008 2009*
India 1093 1113 367
Pakistan 1338 2293 1256
* January 1, 2009 through June 30, 2009  


Pakistan’s political leaders and its national security establishment are now doing far more to address the worst consequences of their policies toward Kashmir and the Taliban.  Corrective steps are still piecemeal, but they reflect the recognition that, as long as Pakistan is known as a place where terrorists can find safe havens, future prospects will be bleak.  One manifestation of this recognition is that five Divisions of the Pakistan Army are now operating along the Afghan border, instead of two.  A military campaign is now underway in South Waziristan, after a sweep conducted in the North West Frontier Province.  Cross-LoC infiltration and attacks in Kashmir remain a small fraction of the mayhem that occurred in the 1990s.

Because Pakistan is now acting against some of those who used to be on the payroll, attacks on its security forces are growing.  Most of the nearly 5,000   fatalities Pakistan has suffered since 2007, however, are innocent bystanders.  The bloodletting within Pakistan shows no signs of waning.  More mass casualty attacks in Pakistan can be expected, as well as on Indian soil.
Under these circumstances, further delays in the resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue because Islamabad must “do more” against extremist groups or bring Hafez Saeed to trial seem questionable, at best.  In the absence of forward progress in bilateral relations, Islamabad and New Delhi will be poorly positioned to dampen negative consequences when the next mass casualty attack occurs. 

Pakistan does, indeed, need to do more to protect its citizens from internal threats: its future stability depends on it.  Regional stability depends on a resumption of talks with India that produce tangible gains.


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