During a joint press conference in Islamabad on June 24 with her Pakistani counterpart, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao called on the two South Asian nuclear powers to deny terrorists the opportunity to derail improving Indo-Pakistani relations. This latest bilateral meeting follows an April 30 meeting between the prime ministers of both countries, which ended with a call on the two countries’ foreign ministers to meet as soon as possible to discuss ways to resume the normalisation process, which was undermined by the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
After the meeting between the two prime ministers, Stratfor pointed out that the rationale behind the softening of the Indian stance had to do with the US-Pakistani alignment on Afghanistan. Washington needs to cooperate with Pakistan to achieve its goals in Afghanistan, a need that has resulted in improved US-Pakistani relations and that raised serious concerns in India that Islamabad was no longer under pressure to act against Islamist militants targeting India. US and Indian interests had aligned after September 11, resulting in pressure on Islamabad that New Delhi saw as a means of containing Pakistan from using Islamist militant proxies to counter the growing gap between Indian and Pakistani military capabilities.
This dual pressure sparked a domestic jihadist insurgency in Pakistan, with Islamabad losing control over its complex Islamist militant landscape. The need to align with Washington in the war against jihadism and avoid war with India forced Pakistan to rein in Taliban and Kashmiri Islamist militant entities – a process that saw the rise of a Pakistani Taliban phenomenon and saw many former Punjabi and Kashmiri militants waging war against the Pakistani state.
The domestic insurgency became so powerful that it forced a shift in Pakistani thinking regarding the use of Islamist militants as a means of projecting power across its eastern and western borders. At a time when there is a major fire raging at home fueled by Islamist extremism and the country’s military-intelligence establishment is having a hard time extinguishing it, Pakistan does not appear to be in a position to use Islamist militant non-state actors – especially against India, which carries the risk of war. Moreover, backing Islamist militancy against India – to the extent that it is even possible – would only aggravate the war at home.
And herein lies an opportunity for India to exploit to its advantage. Pakistan’s domestic insurgency, which has claimed some 20,000 lives in recent years, has seen public and government opinion turn against the Islamist militants. From India’s point of view, this new dynamic needs to be encouraged, as it is the only effective way of containing Pakistan-based Islamist militancy directed against India.
Previously, New Delhi has had no effective means of getting Pakistan to give up its militant card against India. Years of intense pressure from both India and the United States on Islamabad failed to prevent the worst terrorist incident in Indian history when Pakistan-based militants struck in Mumbai in November 2008. Responding with war with Pakistan was not an option, as such a conflict could quickly go nuclear. But now that Pakistan is suffering from the same forces that it historically deployed against India, the Indians see a possible opportunity to try and encourage the growing movement against extremism and terrorism.
The only way India can take advantage of this opportunity is to engage Pakistan in meaningful dialogue, which explains the change in New Delhi’s behavior. It is not clear if India will be able to succeed in its strategy, as the dynamic in Pakistan remains in its nascent stage. Everything depends upon how the situation shapes within Pakistan in terms of the outcome of Islamabad’s war against Islamist extremism and whether Pakistan can prevent jihadists from sabotaging the peace process with India by launching another attack. Even if Pakistan regains control over Islamist militants, it might well return to its old policy of using militants as instruments of foreign policy, especially given that it has no other way of containing growing Indian military power.
Stratfor provides intelligence services for individuals, global corporations, and divisions of the US and foreign governments around the world. This article reproduced with permission.