The media-stoked reaction in India to the Mumbai attacks ended by weakening India's friends and potential allies in Pakistan, says distinguished commentator, Prem Shankar Jha
After seven nerve-racking weeks, the tension between Pakistan and India has broken. Pakistan's response to the Indian dossier has been all that India had hoped it would be. Judging from what President Zardari's interior adviser, Rehman Malik, revealed, Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency has not only made full use of New Delhi's dossier, but collected sufficient additional evidence to frame cases against eight of the principal accused.
Many more arrests are reportedly in the offing. Its request for additional information from Delhi on 30 issues therefore no longer looks like an attempt to stall, or to manufacture excuses in advance, for a predetermined failure of its investigation. India's response, that it will assist to the extent possible is a clear, if cautious, acknowledgement of Pakistan's sincerity.
If Pakistan is able to be so forthright now, what was the reason for its earlier obduracy? Why did President Zardari not send the ISI chief to Delhi after promising to do so? Why did Islamabad first offer full cooperation and then start denying that Ajmal Qasab was a Pakistani without even meeting him? Why were its intelligence, police and local officials putting Faridkot, Qasab's village in Punjab, under wraps even while it was promising full cooperation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and secretary of state Condoleeza Rice ?
Why did Zardari sack his National Security Adviser, General Mahmud Durrani, when he admitted to the Hindustan Times that Qasab was a Pakistani national, and why, for that matter did Gen Durrani admit this so openly when he knew that it would almost certainly lead to his dismissal? Finally, why did Pakistan make light of the Indian dossier even while its agencies were carrying out, as it now turns out, a thorough and professional investigation of its contents?
The only credible explanation is the bare-knuckled conflict that broke out on 27 November, after the terrorist attack on Mumbai, between Pakistan's entrenched military establishment and its fledgling democratic government. The struggle would not have erupted if the Mumbai attack had followed the prescribed script.
Had all the terrorists either been killed or managed to escape, the cover story that they were members of an indigenous group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen that was bent upon taking revenge for the atrocities committed on Indian Muslims in recent years, would have been sufficiently plausible to hide the Lashkar -e-Tayyiba's tracks.
But three things went wrong: the terrorists failed to sink the hijacked fishing trawler Kuber: Qasab was captured alive and, sometime after they holed up in the Oberoi and Taj hotels, the terrorists began to realise that they were never meant to escape and that the plan they had been fed, of taking hostages to negotiate their way out of India, was bogus.
Qasab and the recovered trawler provided virtually incontrovertible proof that the attack had originated in Pakistan. A flurry of discussions between the terrorists and their handlers on the fate of the hostages enabled the IB to trace the handlers and conclude that, as in the case of the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul last July, serving officers of the ISI were involved in the attack on Mumbai.
The dossier India gave to Pakistan did not contain any evidence that directly implicated the ISI and the army. But had New Delhi's suspicions been unfounded there would have been no dog-fight within the Pakistani state. The Zardari government's immediate and unconditional offer of cooperation on 27 November was powerful evidence that it had had no hand in the attack. But by the same token, the army chief's unshakable determination to deny the involvement of any Pakistanis and, later, to prevent any investigation that it could not control, provided equally strong evidence of its complicity.
Gen Mahmud Durrani's decision to throw the glove down before his former colleagues reflected the intensity of his resentment. As a key adviser to Zardari, Durrani felt all of the pressure the latter was under. But as a military man and an ardent nationalist, he was not prepared to remain party to a set of lies that were making Pakistan look increasingly ridiculous and putting it in dire peril.
The conflict between the civil and military state in Pakistan is not, however, the only reason for the stiffening of the Gilani government's stand after its initial eagerness to cooperate. The other is the hawkish cries that were let loose in India by the media and its talking heads, and echoed by some in the government who should have known better. These gave the Pakistan army just the shield of fear and nationalist fervour that it needed to deflect the Pakistani public's attention away from what it had done. The media-stoked reaction in India therefore ended by weakening India's friends and potential allies in Pakistan.
If the Gilani-Zardari government persevered nevertheless, a large part of the credit goes to the extraordinarily courageous support it received from the most liberal and democratic elements in Pakistan's civil society. The Pakistani media were the first to welcome their decision to send the ISI chief to India and their offer to cooperate in the investigation. They were the first to criticise the government when it went into its mercifully short period of blind denial.
And it was Pakistani and Pakistan-born journalists who exposed, at considerable risk to themselves, the attempt to make Qasab and his parents 'un-persons'.
New Delhi now faces a stark choice: it can continue to treat the Pakistani state as an undifferentiated whole and mistrust its motives, or it can recognise the epic struggle that its civil society is waging against the military establishment, not to do India a favour but to save the kind of country they want Pakistan to be. That should also be New Delhi's aim.