The elaborate diplomatic dance between India and Pakistan has been interrupted once again. The two sides remain far from a major breakthrough in their troubled relationship. As long as the Pakistani Army continues to view India as an existential threat and maintains its grip over security policy, the twain may never achieve permanent peace.
India has called off the meeting between its Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh and her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Chaudhry scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad, after Pakistan's High Commissioner in Delhi met Kashmiri separatist leaders. This has ended the euphoria following Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's journey to New Delhi for the inauguration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi last May. Pakistan's decision to remind Indians of their dispute over Kashmir followed Modi's comments about Pakistani support for terrorism during a recent visit to Kargil, where the two countries fought a war in 1999.
Both Sharif and Modi spoke of the need to bury the hatchet during their meeting on occasion of Modi's inauguration. But the expressions of desire for normalization could not contain the more substantive problems in the India-Pakistan relationship. India remains unhappy over Pakistan's failure to prosecute terrorists involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Sharif, on the other hand, must deal with hardliners in Pakistan's military who insist on seeing India as their country's permanent enemy - unwilling to look too closely at the terrorists involved in the attack.
For India, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were as much a challenge as the 9/11 assault was for Americans. The 12 coordinated shootings and bombings carried out by ten Pakistani terrorists killed 164 people and terrorized India's commercial capital for almost three days before commandos flushed them out of various buildings, including five-star hotels and a Jewish Community Center. The images of the attacks, telecast live into Indian homes, are seared in the memory of most Indians.
Although Pakistan arrested several individuals involved in planning and executing the Mumbai attacks, prosecution has been repeatedly delayed. Intelligence reports, including some from US sources, have indicated that the detained commanders of Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LeT, enjoy amenities not available to prisoners. Some have been found passing instructions on the phone to operatives. Recently, their trial was once again postponed without recording evidence or other substantive proceedings.
LeT chief Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed remains free, appearing on television spouting venom against India, Israel and the United States from his massive headquarters near Lahore. Indian officials read Pakistan's refusal to prosecute the 26/11 accused or clamp down on Hafiz Sayeed as a sign of reluctance in shutting down anti-India jihadi groups.
In July Pakistan's military launched a military operation against terrorist safe havens along its border with Afghanistan, yet the Pakistani state is far from shutting down the jihadi infrastructure built since the 1980s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and the subsequent militant uprising in Kashmir during the 1990s.
The Pakistani military continues to seek military advantage against India even though the possession of nuclear weapons by both countries should deter the prospect of war. Jihadis offer a sub-conventional deterrent to Pakistan against India's overwhelming advantage in conventional military capability. Most Pakistani civilian politicians recognize the dangers of reliance on terrorism as an element of Pakistan's strategic planning, but the military retains tight control over foreign and national security policy despite return to civilian rule in 2008.
Like his civilian predecessor Asif Ali Zardari, Sharif has declared normalization of relations with India as a priority. Zardari's government tried to open travel and trade and, in 2011, agreed to Most Favored Nation status for India. Despite completion of legal formalities, the status has not yet been granted, demonstrating behind-the-scenes military influence.