Jan 6, 2009

World - Pakistan may outsmart India in diplomatic poker

Simon Denyer - Analysis

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India may be frustrated and even outwitted by Pakistan over the Mumbai attacks, after placing its faith in diplomacy and the support of the United States.

New Delhi has responded to the attacks on its soil with a determined diplomatic offensive, trusting Washington and ultimately Barack Obama to force Pakistan's hand.

It could be disappointed, but is unlikely to vent its frustration through military action, analysts and diplomats say.

"Pakistan has been able to obfuscate the issue, which is testimony to its chutzpah," said Indian security analyst Uday Bhaskar.

"It is also a reflection of the degree to which the major powers are complicit in allowing the Pakistani establishment to engage in this kind of double-speak.

"India will have to temper its own expectation of what the international community can deliver."

Monday, India handed evidence to Pakistan and other countries which it said showed Pakistani militants carried out the November attack on Mumbai, and Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram will take the dossier to Washington this week.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh kept up pressure Tuesday, saying the attack must have had support from "official agencies" in Pakistan and accusing Islamabad of "whipping up war hysteria."

But with Obama and the West depending on Pakistani support for a planned troop surge in Afghanistan, there are limits to how far the world will twist Islamabad's arm.

Immediately after the attack, India won what it called "very, very heartening" international support, but Pakistan has since had some success in obfuscating the issue by raising the threat of Indian military retaliation.

Its people have largely united against India, and its army suddenly seems indispensable again. But there are critical voices -- Pakistan's main human rights group accused its government Saturday of being in a "state of denial."


India has demanded Pakistan pursue investigations to their conclusion and hand over the organizers to Indian justice.

It is a demand South Asian regional agreements back -- that terrorist acts should be prosecuted in the nation where they occur -- but not one many analysts or diplomats expect to be met.

"Handing over Pakistani nationals to Indian custody, I don't think the Pakistani government can survive that humiliating demand," said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

"I don't think that the United States is going to succeed to put pressure on Pakistan, because what India wants Pakistan to do is politically, and otherwise, not possible at all -- and India knows that very well."

Apart from national pride, there is another compelling reason why militants from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), alleged to have planned and coordinated the attacks, would never be surrendered abroad.

The group was set up with the support of Pakistani military intelligence, the ISI, to fight Indian rule in Kashmir, and many Western analysts say it retains some kind of official support.

Indeed the Indian media say there is evidence senior or former members of the ISI acted as "minders" for the attacks. Islamabad would never allow this kind of dirty laundry to be aired in public, nor allow action against former ISI figures.

"If we say we have evidence of (official) handlers and minders, then naturally we would expect action against these guys," said Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of the Hindu newspaper. "These are all areas of potential controversy. I don't see plain sailing right now."


There are also limits to how far Obama will push the Pakistani military. He needs their help to battle Taliban militants in the west, and to deny them safe haven as he plans to pour more troops into neighboring Afghanistan, analysts say.

Nor will Obama want to grapple with the thorny issue of the links between the Pakistani army and Islamist militants so soon after taking office, and with so much already on his plate.

"The Pentagon is still in denial," Varadarajan added. "It still looks at the Pakistani military as part of the solution, not as part of the problem."

The most India can hope for, analysts say, is a trial of one or two senior Lashkar figures in Pakistan. In fact, the Wall Street Journal said last week that an LeT leader had told Pakistani interrogators he was a key planner of the attacks, a story perhaps leaked to prepare public opinion for a trial.

Indian analysts fear such a trial might be little more than a "dog and pony show" designed to deflect international pressure, and that the dismantling of the LeT organization is unlikely.

Already there are signs of a more tolerant attitude to Pakistan from the United States than from India, with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher saying Monday that Islamabad had already done "quite a bit."

In short, New Delhi is likely to be dissatisfied with the Pakistani response, but may find international appetite to maintain pressure on Islamabad soon begins to wane.

The Indian government always realized a military strike on Pakistan would be counterproductive, and only serve to strengthen the hawks and extremists across the border.

That leaves it with few alternatives, apart from formally suspending the peace process, if Pakistan does not play ball.

All bets are off, though, if Pakistani militants stage another attack on Indian soil. Varadarajan says it would take something really massive to change the calculation about the futility of military retaliation, but Bhaskar says the government might be pushed into a corner in an election year.

"The Indian government would be forced to react in a symbolic way. It would not lead to strategic gains, but I don't think the restraint we are now talking about could be maintained."

(Additional reporting by Robert Birsel in Islamabad: Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Jerry Norton)

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