The terrorist attacks in Mumbai and the ample evidence indicating the involvement of Pakistan-based militant outfits poses a difficult foreign policy challenge before India. While the demands of globalization coupled with the security interests of the region beckon India and Pakistan to do away with their animosity and strengthen their bilateral ties, the continuing export of terrorism from Pakistan's territory, irrespective of its government's complicity or neutrality as the case may be, calls upon India to act tough with its neighbour. With domestic pressure mounting in India to take stern measures against Pakistan, what are the policy options before India that best serve its national and strategic interests?
To begin with, India needs to clearly elucidate its long-term policy objective vis-a-vis Pakistan. In dealing with Pakistan, is the Indian government driven by the objective of achieving peace and security in the region by breaking down the terror infrastructure in Pakistan or by the desire to gain political and strategic mileage in the international community and domestically by mobilizing support against Pakistan as an untrustworthy ally? India's reaction so far reflects a tendency towards the latter. Such an approach has a major pitfall in that it fails to take into consideration the complex political developments within Pakistan such as differences within the military ranks or the receding of the Kashmir issue in Pakistan's politics in recent times as evident in its national elections. Above all, it fails to recognize the rise of al Qaeda-driven Islamic fundamentalism in the subcontinent that has for its objective, the establishment an Islamic Caliphate in the region and that is at least in part emerging as a force independent of the Pakistan military. How does the Indian security establishment seek to address the threat from global jihad as opposed to Kashmir-centric jihad?
New Delhi's policy objective should be to push for peace and security in the region. In doing so, India needs to bear in mind that its long-term interests in the region will be best served by a stable, democratic government in Pakistan, and moreover, that it needs to live in harmony with its neighbour. Given this parameter, how then can India improve its security with regards to terrorism stemming form Pakistan soil? India needs to follow a two-pronged approach vis-a-vis Pakistan: engage with the civilian government at a political level while at the same time mobilize pressure on the Pakistan military to deliver by reducing its 'indispensability' in the war on terror.
Engaging with the civilian government is necessary for India to exploit the growing constituency within Pakistan in favour of stabilization of relations. One way of doing this is to explore the option of joint investigation with Pakistan as is being offered. While substantial doubts over the sincerity of Pakistan's intentions remain, this in itself cannot be used as an argument against joint investigation. India could instead use the mechanism to test Pakistan's commitment to fight against terrorism and ensure their accountability internationally. By gathering common information and evidence, there is less of a case for Pakistan to refute the evidence. For instance, if evidence traces the masterminds of the attack to training camps in PoK, Pakistan will not be in a position to refuse access to Indian investigators because that would expose its claims of suspect outfits like the Lashkar being merely social organizations. In other words, if Pakistan has nothing to hide about the Lashkar, then it will have no grounds to refuse interrogation of its members. Moreover, a common source of information regarding the Mumbai attack flowing from joint investigation will prove to be critical for putting an end to various misunderstandings on both sides and conspiracy theories doing the rounds. This will go a long way in building trust among the two nations. India could also push for using the joint investigation mechanism to improve and verify its human intelligence available on militant groups operating in Pakistan-controlled territory.
At the same time, India should push for greater international pressure on the Pakistan military to abandon its age-old policy of supporting terror groups against India. Indian diplomatic effort should seek to persuade the US to at least threaten to stop military aid to Pakistan if it fails to take action against the terror groups. A clear, united message should be conveyed to the Pakistan military that while Pakistan enjoys the logistic advantage in the war on terror, it can no longer use it as a trump card. This would mean that the US would need to enter into a dialogue with both Iran and Russia to explore and negotiate alternative routes to Afghanistan, an endeavour in which India has an opportunity to play the role of a catalyst.
Ultimately, it is time for India to draft an independent security policy for the subcontinent that factors in US interests but is not shaped by it, and which brings South Asian countries together in the fight against terrorism.