Pakistan is unlikely to deliver justice on 26/11 — but India seems willing to gamble that the internal crisis Islamabad is beset with will compel it to keep the peace in future.

“God's acts are never irrational,” wrote Ziauddin Najam, commander of a Pakistani strategic forces division, in a 2008 essay: an essay remarkable for both the Major-General's unwavering belief in a divine project and his evident loss of faith in the doctrinal credo that the nation's nuclear weapons would ensure its survival. “Pakistan was created on the night of the 27th Ramadan”, the General went on, “and is [therefore] there to stay forever: we must have faith in it.”

Major-General Najam's despairing words could help an extraordinary effort to bring about a rapprochement in India's fraught relationship with Pakistan — an effort more than one commentator has dismissed as a consequence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's own theology of regional peace.

Last week, after Foreign Ministers Hina Rabbani Khar and S.M. Krishna met in the Maldives, the leaders let it be known that the “trust deficit between the two countries is shrinking.” Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rahman Malik, called for the hanging of the incarcerated 26/11 assault team member Muhammad Ajmal Kasab — a man he once insisted was not from his country.

Dr. Singh later addressed his critics at home: “I did discuss with Prime Minister [Yusaf Raza] Gilani whether the Pakistan Army is fully on board to carry forward the peace process. The sense I got was that after a long time, Pakistan's armed forces are fully on board.”

The claim, if true, is remarkable. New Delhi and Islamabad made multiple attempts to revive their fraught relationship since 26/11, but each floundered in the face of continued Pakistani military support for anti-India jihadists and unwillingness to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage, the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Evidence that any of this has changed is thin — but there is some reason to believe that the Pakistan army, behind its bluster, is weaker than ever and, therefore, desperate to secure its eastern flank at a time it appears besieged from all sides.

For weeks now, Pakistan has been seeking to demonstrate its commitment to peace: the release of an Indian helicopter that strayed across the Line of Control and the tentative movement on opening trade across the border are among the signs of a thaw.

It is also clear, though, that Pakistan's military isn't about to turn on its Islamist proxies. Even though a judicial commission is scheduled to visit Mumbai to record the testimony required for the prosecution of 26/11 suspects being tried in a Lahore court, there is plenty of evidence that Islamabad continues to harbour terrorists — among them, men directly involved in the attack.

Sajid Mir, Lashkar commander who crafted the assault plan, has been reported by both the United States and India's intelligence services as operating out of his family home near the Garrison Club in Lahore; Pakistan's Federal Investigations Agency hasn't yet got around to paying him a visit. Muzammil Bhat, who trained the assault team, is claimed by Pakistan to be a fugitive, though two journalists who went looking for the terror commander in Muzaffarabad located him without great effort. Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, sole senior Lashkar operative held for his alleged role in the attacks, has continued to communicate with his organisation from prison. Pakistan hasn't, tellingly, even sought to question David Headley, Pakistani-American jihadist who has provided the investigators with a detailed insider account of the attacks — including the role of the Inter-Services Intelligence in directing them.

Back in December 2008, Pakistan's envoy to the United Nations, Abdullah Haroon, promised that his country would proscribe the Lashkar's parent organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa; the government lists released earlier this year, like those before them, do not mention the organisation.

Even the U.S. is dismayed by Pakistan's conduct: in a recent testimony to Congress, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced concern at Pakistan's “continuing failure, in our view, to fulfil all of the requirements necessary for prosecution related to the Mumbai attacks.”

India's policy establishment has long argued that Pakistan's conduct of the 26/11 case would be a litmus test of its military's strategic intentions. So what has led New Delhi to change course?

Pakistan's hard-nosed generals do not likely share Dr. Singh's almost religious beliefs about the need for peace in South Asia. Their bottom line, though, is likely this: beset with an Islamist insurgency that has undermined both its internal cohesiveness and legitimacy as a guardian of the Pakistani state, the army just cannot sustain a future crisis with India.

In 2010, things seemed quite different: Pakistan's Army Chief Parvez Kayani bluntly told journalists that the country's relationship with India “will not change in any significant way until the Kashmir issue and water disputes are resolved.” The proclamation came in the wake of a reversal of his predecessor's decision to temper jihadist operations against India. In 2008, soon after General Kayani took office, the ISI authorised a murderous attack on India's diplomatic mission in Kabul. The Lashkar's infiltration across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir surged. Later that year, it became clear from Headley's testimony that the ISI Directorate provided direct support for the Mumbai attack.

This aggressive posture marked a substantial change in Pakistan's strategic thought. In a thoughtful 2002 paper, scholar George Perkovich cast light on Gen. Musharraf's reappraisal of the Pakistani military strategy on India. Lieutenant-General Moinuddin Haider, who served as Interior Minister under President Musharraf, told Dr. Perkovich that he argued that the long-term costs of continuing to back jihadists would be higher than the potential losses from taking them on. “I was the sole voice initially,” Gen. Haider recalled, “saying ‘Mr. President, your economic plan will not work, people will not invest, if you don't get rid of extremists'.”

Gen. Haider gathered allies — among them the former intelligence chief, Lieutenant-General Javed Ashraf Qazi. “We must not be afraid,” General Qazi said in the wake of the 2001-2002 India-Pakistan military crisis, “of admitting that the Jaish was involved in the deaths of thousands of innocent Kashmiris, bombing the Indian Parliament, [the journalist] Daniel Pearl's murder and even attempts on President Musharraf's life.”

Gen. Musharraf listened: in the wake of the 2001-2002 military crisis with India, which imposed crippling costs on Pakistan's economy, he presided over a steady scaling back of support for the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir, and gradually cut back the backing for terrorist attacks elsewhere in India.

From Major-General Najam's article, we have some sense of how these new policies were seen by his commanders. “Pakistan's complete turnaround from its earlier policy,” Gen. Najam wrote in the 2008 issue of theGreen Book, the army's premier internal platform for doctrinal and geo-strategic debate, “brought the state into a direct clash with a sizeable segment of its society, particularly those religious zealots who had gained considerable clout and power through exploitation of religious sentiments. Also sympathetic to these religious extremists were those deprived elements of society who for long had been denied economic and educational opportunities”.

Looking back, 26/11 was General Kayani's Kargil — an audacious attempt to rebuild legitimacy with the religious right-wing and consolidate his position within Pakistan's armed forces, all by advertising his commitment to their core anti-India concerns. Kargil, though, backfired — and so did 26/11. Like Gen. Musharraf, Gen. Kayani found the Pakistan armed forces' covert support to the jihadists exposed in public — and the country under pressure.

For two years, Gen. Kayani was able to weather the 26/11 storm: the U.S. was willing to go easy on Pakistan, in return for its cooperation, however fitful, in the war against the jihadists in Afghanistan. The problem, Gen. Najam pointed out, was that a “sizeable segment of Pakistani society, rightly or wrongly, perceives Pakistan as serving [the] U.S. interest at the cost of [its] own people.” “Pakistan today,” he concluded, “finds itself in an ironic position: the more it provides support to GWOT [the Global War on Terror], the greater [the] reaction [that] develops in its society.”

In evermore desperate efforts to manage that reaction, Gen. Kayani sought deals with the jihadists acting against the Pakistani state; backed anti-U.S. jihadists in Afghanistan in an effort to secure leverage against those targeting his forces; and deepened his relationship with the anti-India groups like the Lashkar and the Jaish-e-Muhammad in an effort to befriend Islamists.

Like most trapeze acts, this one proved impossible to sustain. Following the May 2 raid that claimed Osama bin Laden's life, ISI chief Shuja Pasha angrily told Pakistani legislators: “At every difficult moment in our history, the United States has let us down. This fear that we can't live without the United States is wrong.”

Pakistan can, however, only live with so many enemies at once — and that is precisely the strategy opportunity Indian policymakers are seeking to benefit from.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram warned Pakistan in the months after 26/11 “not to play any more games.” “If they carry out any more attacks on India,” he said, “they will not only be defeated, but we will also retaliate with the force of a sledgehammer.” The truth is that the blows will have terrible costs for India also — costs that no sensible policymaker believes should be used to compel Pakistan to deliver justice on 26/11. The worst case scenario before the Prime Minister is that his peace gamble, like those before it, fails: but that would leave India exactly where it was the day before Ms Khar and Mr. Krishna met in the Maldives.

Pakistan's peace cheque is post-dated, and issued on a bank in dubious health — but with else nothing in hand, New Delhi has little to lose by accepting the promise that is being held out.

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