The fact that Osama bin Laden found refuge in a Pakistani cantonment town may add more rhetorical punch to India's charge that Pakistan has become a safe haven for violent extremism but the first-order effect of his killing on bilateral relationship is likely to be negligible.
After all, India's recent decision to rekindle the dialogue process was taken in full knowledge of the fact that Islamabad remains unwilling or unable to act decisively against the different jihadi groups that form part of the “syndicate of terror.” These include, of course, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and its leadership, who were responsible for the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.
For two years, the Manmohan Singh government kept the dialogue process suspended in the hope that this would help force Pakistan to act. The strategy worked at first but turned out to be a weak instrument the longer India persisted with it. Worse, the blanket refusal to talk meant India was unable to push for gains in other areas such as trade and commerce and confidence-building measures.
Even though the Prime Minister and some of his advisers understood that a change of tack was needed, they remained wary of how the Opposition and the wider body of public opinion would react. The contrived outcry which followed the abortive Sharm el-Sheikh initiative of July 2009 delayed the much-needed reset for another year. Ironically, when Dr. Singh's government finally indicated — after the Thimphu meetings this February — that it was ready to move forward on the full spectrum of issues, there was hardly any political criticism. Perhaps the Opposition had better issues to target the Prime Minister on, like the 2G scam, or realised, in the wake of Governor Salman Taseer's assassination, that the dysfunctionality of the Pakistani state was not necessarily India-specific. Either way, the dialogue is back and there is hardly any public controversy about this despite Pakistan not fulfilling all of India's oft-repeated pre-conditions on 26/11 and terrorism.
This new strategy of engaging Pakistan has opened up the possibility of quick progress on ‘side' issues like trade, even as progress on the core issues of terrorism and Kashmir is fated to remain slow, contingent as it is on the level of trust the two sides have in each other. Thus, at the recent meeting of Commerce Secretaries in Islamabad, for example, both sides announced their intention of taking steps that will ramp up two-way trade.
India is unlikely to make the mistake of allowing Osama bin Laden to sabotage this win-win process from his watery grave in the Indian Ocean. Apart from economic gains, greater trade will gradually enlarge the constituency of those in Pakistan who have a stake in the normalisation of relations with India. Even on the Kashmir front, the resumption of backchannel talks and the revival, obviously under a new name, of the ‘Manmohan-Musharraf' formula, are something New Delhi can look forward to.
When the whole world, post-Abbottabad, is drawing its own unflattering conclusions about the Pakistani military establishment, there is no need for India to strike a triumphalist note about Pakistan being a sanctuary for terrorists. What the U.S. did on Monday may have been effective but it remains a second-best solution to tackling terror on Pakistani soil. The fight against the entire syndicate of terror has to be waged by the Pakistani police and security forces, acting under the complete control of the civilian government there. This is a message India needs to emphasise to the U.S. and other allies and friends of Pakistan and it will be most effective if delivered with tact and restraint.