India frustrated by a rudderless Pakistan

Posted in India , Pakistan | 12-Aug-08 | Author: Somini Sengupta| Source: International Herald Tribune

Prime Ministers Yousaf Raza Gilani of Pakistan, left, and of India.

NEW DELHI: Usually, when two rival nations try to work toward peace, their governments talk to each other.

And at least in an official capacity, that is still happening between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, even as the peace between them lies tattered. But the problem, the Indian side contends, is that by talking to the new civilian government of Pakistan, it is no longer negotiating with those who have the power to decide between war and peace.

"The real power," said one Indian official, "is so far away from the structures the world deals with."

For India, argued the official, that distance has become all the more vast in recent months, since it is negotiating with an elected Pakistani government that has little influence over the country's more powerful army and spy agency.

India has openly blamed the spy agency and indirectly blamed the army for spoiling the peace that it was negotiating with Pakistan's former army chief, President Pervez Musharraf, before his party was drubbed in parliamentary elections in February.

"You're talking at two or three removes from the real power," added the Indian official. "They have to talk to the people who do control this."

The official and other Indian and American officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

India's predicament hints at a gnawing problem inside Pakistan, which has been under military rule for half of its nearly 62-year existence. Even when civilians govern, they are forced to tread lightly around the country's army and intelligence agency.

The stakes could hardly be higher now, as India-Pakistan relations fall to a perilous new low. The Indian Army has reported a spike in cease-fire violations on the disputed frontier in Kashmir, prompting direct skirmishes between the two militaries.

There have been a series of terrorist attacks in the last several months, which India says have been conducted by militant groups aided or trained by Pakistanis.

In early July came what the Indians saw as the crossing of a dangerous threshold: A suicide bomber attacked India's embassy in Kabul, killing dozens of people, including two of its diplomats.

Indian and American officials said they had received advance intelligence that the embassy was under threat. Officials in India and the United States, along with Afghanistan, blamed Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, for helping plan the strike. Pakistan has denied the charge and has pressed India to furnish proof.

The attack signaled how India-Pakistan relations had become additionally complicated by India's expanding presence in Afghanistan. India helped topple the Taliban in Afghanistan and has committed more than $1.1 billion for the reconstruction of that country.

Its biggest project is the construction of a strategic road to link landlocked Afghanistan to a port in neighboring Iran. India is also training teachers and civil servants in Afghanistan, giving scholarships for Afghan students in India and erecting a new Afghan Parliament building.

That engagement has taken its toll on the roughly 4,000 Indian workers inside Afghanistan over the past couple of years. An Indian driver was found decapitated, an engineer was abducted and murdered, and seven members of the paramilitary force guarding Indian reconstruction crews were killed. Last year, the Indian road crew faced 30 rocket attacks.

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, on a recent visit here to the Indian capital, openly blamed Pakistan for instigating terrorist attacks inside his country, including the suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy.

"There are elements within the establishment in Pakistan who do not see things the way we see them," he said on a nationally broadcast interview last week. "India knows what is going on. Afghanistan knows what is going on. Our allies know what is going on."

In Washington, American intelligence officials hinted at a new shared worry for India and Afghanistan. Militant groups that had been operating inside Indian-controlled Kashmir have been carrying out attacks inside Afghanistan lately. They include, according to American officials, Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group dominated by ethnic Punjabis from Pakistan that New Delhi blames for several terrorist attacks inside India.

"The foreign-fighter problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan is growing, and we consider non-Pashtun Pakistanis, such as elements of formerly Kashmiri groups, a part of that growing problem," said a United States Defense Department official.

American officials cautioned that while Pakistan's ISI was likely to be working with some of these extremists, many of the militants were operating independently and benefited from ties to groups in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on Pakistan's lawless western frontier.

Remarkably, the bombing of the Indian Embassy did not halt the India-Pakistan peace talks, though it radically altered their tenor and substance. "We have made it clear we cannot stop talking, but it won't be the same peace process," the Indian official said. "You cannot go on saying, 'We will sign peace deals with you,' if you cannot control this. These are not things approved at the lower levels. It is too big."

About three weeks after the attack, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, met with his Pakistani counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani, on the sidelines of a South Asian summit meeting in Sri Lanka.

India's vulnerability, officials and analysts here say, is largely a function of a Pakistan in flux. President Musharraf faces impeachment proceedings. Pakistan's two leading politicians, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, have no official posts. And the army and the ISI can operate with little accountability to a rudderless civilian administration led by Gilani.

"When India dealt with General Musharraf, it was dealing with real power," said Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, a retired Indian diplomat who served as the ambassador in Pakistan when Musharraf seized power in a bloodless 1999 coup. "When a civilian government comes to power in these circumstances, where the army controls the real levers of power and the civilian government is the face we interact with, we get nowhere."

Salman Haidar, another retired Indian diplomat, said India always tended to see civilian governments across the border as "inherently feeble," and the army as the "usurper."

"Beneath rationality and ordinary decision making, there is mistrust that two generations since independence have not got rid of," he said in an e-mail message. "The original sin of partition."