The road to India-Pakistan talks, at least real engagement, just became slightly longer. The David Headley confessions, though not earth-shattering, have ensured that terror is in the spotlight once again. Talks between the foreign secretaries may be in the “near future’’, an oft-repeated phrase by both sides. But, so far, the real process of breaking the ice has not started. And the ball seems to be back in Pakistan’s court.
Coming close on the heels of the joint action committee on the Pathankot attack, the Headley revelations have left India very little room for manoeuvre. With Parliament also likely to be rocky owing to domestic compulsions, dealing with Pakistan and engaging it will not be a top priority for the government. The testimony of Headley, a double agent first reported by THE WEEK, has ensured that India can feel sufficiently vindicated. “The confession has confirmed what the government has been saying for years,’’ said former ambassador Vivek Katju. “There is a linkage between the [Pakistan] government and terror groups…. It [engagement] depends on public opinion. Mumbai cut very close to the bone. It [the revelations] will feed negatively into whatever effort the government may choose to make.”
On a moral high ground with the Headley revelations, India, however, found that while the confession might strengthen its case at international forums, it did not have an impact on Pakistan being blacklisted. The United States agreed to sell Pakistan eight F-16 jets at half the price even as Headley sat in an undisclosed location offering evidence about the involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed. “It is not that the governments don’t know what is happening. They have an interest in Pakistan. They have their own axes to grind. They act differently,” said Katju. “Our diplomacy must actively inform the international community about the Headley revelations. There is an international public opinion that needs to be educated.’’
“Disappointed at the decision”, the external affairs ministry summoned US ambassador Richard Verma to South Block to register India's displeasure. “We disagree with their rationale that such arm transfers help to combat terrorism. The record for the last many years in this regard speaks for itself,’’ said a statement issued by the ministry of external affairs. In response, a spokesperson for Pakistan's ministry of external affairs said: “We are surprised and disappointed at the Indian government’s reaction. Their [India’s] Army and arsenal stock are much larger and they are the largest importer of defence equipment.”
So where does that lead India and Pakistan talks? The Headley confessions, so far, have not really had an impact in Pakistan. Apart from a piece in the Dawn, the revelations have not captured Pakistani media attention either. Senator Rehman Malik tweeted that Headley was a R&AW plant to defame Pakistan, and it got more attention than the revelations themselves. “It [the revelations] has added to the stalemate that is continuing,’’ said Ayesha Siddiqa, independent political and defence analyst. “As far as Hafiz Saeed is concerned, nothing will happen on that front.”