Pakistan agrees to talk, sort of

Pakistan has agreed to hold talks with India -- sort of.  The office of Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani released the following statement.  "It was decided that foreign secretary-level talks between the two countries would be held on February 25 in New Delhi."  The statement came only three days after Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi angrily rejected talks with India and accused India of collaborating with the Taliban to de-stabilize Pakistan.  Sources here, however, are emphatic that "these will be fruitless talks."

The reason for their skepticism is this:  The request for talks came out of Pakistan's giving aid and support to the Islamists responsible for the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai.  Surviving terrorists and numerous intelligence sources stated that Pakistan provided logistical and other forms of support for the attack and still provides them with a safe haven where they are immune from facing justice.  Like many other Islamic Republics, Pakistan has tolerated and even supported the growth and development of radical Islamist groups on its soil, including the very Taliban forces that now threaten its national existence. 

That is why President Obama's policy that identifies open Islamists as our target but assumes that the rest of the Pakistanis are our allies is, in the most generous terms, misguided.  The Pakistanis first promised to cooperate with India, but have become increasingly resistant to doing so.  Talks were to be the solution until Pakistan issued its provocative rebuke earlier in the week.  But Pakistan insisted that they cover a wide range of issue, especially Kashmir.  That was unacceptable to the Indians because the reason for the talks, the Mumbai attack, would get lost in such a wide-ranging agenda.  Moreover, the very notion of these talks grew out of Indo-Pak conflict over Mumbai. 

At the same time, standing alongside Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Galyani said that "People of Palestine and Occupied Kashmir are fighting for their just right of self-determination," a reference clearly targeted at the Indians to equate the two issues on international agendas.  In today's announcement, Pakistan agreed only to talks that cover "all core issues," especially Kashmir. Although Indian representatives indicated that they would be open to covering all issues," they are clear that they want Mumbai to be the focus.  In a backhanded compliment, not atypical of South Asian politics, Indian Defense Minister A K Anthony said he would even make sure the talks "would not be affected by increase in infiltration by militants from across the border or Pakistan's failure to dismantle terror groups operating from Pakistani soil."

Observers here also note that the Pakistanis made sure to fashion themselves as peacemakers when US National Security Advisor James Jones was in the capital of Islamabad.  "The United States," one well-informed Indian told me, "will do anything it can so Pakistan seems to be using all of its might against the Taliban-although India is their real target."  He noted that "phony talks" like this only make things worse because they give the Pakistanis the ability to pose as reasonable people without taking any concrete action, "like what is happening with the Iranians."  He then added, "This only increases {Indo-Pak] tensions because the issue of the [Mumbai] terrorists will not go away.  Even Indians who are always soft on Pakistan won't give on this one."