Has Pakistan Outwitted India?

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David Guttenfelder / AP

An Indian soldier takes cover as the Taj Mahal hotel burns during gun battles between Indian troops and militants inside the hotel. The attack took place in November 2008

Despite its outrage over November's Mumbai terrorist attacks, which originated in Pakistan, India has been restrained in its response. Fears that the fallout from the massacre could spark a military confrontation between the hostile, nuclear-armed neighbors proved unfounded, and even India's diplomatic efforts to shame Pakistan and pressure the nation to act against militants operating from its soil have been viewed in India as timid and incoherent. Six weeks after the attacks, the issue has been bumped off the global diplomatic agenda by the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation in Gaza, and India's options are shrinking. In the eyes of many in India who take a dim view of Islamabad's handling of cross-border terrorism, the game is going in Pakistan's favor.

Within days of the attack, on Dec. 1, India served two démarches — diplo-speak for a formal request for another country to act — demanding that Pakistan hand over suspects wanted in connection with the Mumbai raid and other crimes in India and that the Pakistani authorities dismantle terrorist organizations operating from its soil. Yet it has not resorted to other common tactics of diplomatic pressure such as recalling its own high commissioner to Islamabad, taking trade measures, denying overflight rights and so on. "There are a host of economic, political and diplomatic options short of war," says Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi–based Centre for Policy Research. "The government of India did not use any of those, and now its options are dwindling, and anything it does only brings diminishing returns." (See pictures of the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.)

India initially proceeded with caution, aware that a confrontation with Pakistan would advance the agenda of the militants without necessarily achieving much progress in countering terrorism in the region. Nor could the U.S. be expected to support India in any escalation. But having achieved only limited cooperation from Pakistan, New Delhi appears to be making a belated effort to press for more. On Monday, India summoned the Pakistani high commissioner to New Delhi and handed him a dossier containing what it says is compelling evidence that Pakistani "elements" were involved in the attacks. At the same time, Indian Foreign Ministry officials began briefing foreign diplomats on the contents of the dossier. But the new initiative appears unlikely to prompt any change of direction on Pakistan's part. A day after receiving the dossier, said to contain transcripts of the interrogation of Muhammad Ajmal Kasab — the lone surviving gunman from the attacks — as well as of cell-phone conversations conducted by the attackers in the course of their massacre and other data from their phones, Islamabad coolly dismissed its significance, saying it contained no credible evidence.

Pakistan's rebuff left India reiterating, through Defense Minister A.K. Antony, that it was "examining all possible available options." But many analysts believe that the window of opportunity for military action in response to Mumbai has long been closed and that by issuing empty threats, India is simply weakening its credibility. "The military option, if it had to be used, would've been used within the first week of the attacks," says Dipankar Banerjee, director of the New Delhi–based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. "But India decided — correctly — that that option would have been counterproductive." Banerjee, like many other analysts, says a military offensive early on would have been difficult to back up, as India had no actionable evidence of Pakistani involvement at that stage. "Even the option of surgical strikes to take out cells is overhyped. India has no such precise intelligence to strike at clear, specific targets," Banerjee says, "and if there were any collateral damage, Pakistan would paint itself as the victim."

India's latest diplomatic gambit appears to be based on the expectation of support from the U.S., which had urged restraint in response to the Mumbai terrorism. Home Minister P. Chidambaram intends to visit Washington soon with a copy of the dossier of evidence. The U.S. has been quietly pressing Pakistan, via a steady stream of envoys to Islamabad, to act against militants in its territory. "But no country will fight your battle for you," says Chellaney. "Just see the contrast between India's response to Mumbai and Israel's in Gaza."

G. Parthasarathy, a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, adds, "We must remember that the U.S. is itself heavily dependent on Pakistan for logistics in Afghanistan. And if India really has evidence to link the ISI [Pakistan's military-intelligence service] to the Mumbai attacks, the U.S. will not help us go down that path at all." Parthasarathy, like many Indian security analysts, believes the U.S. continues to see the ISI and the Pakistani military as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Lashkar-e-Taiba, the main jihadist outfit blamed by India for the Mumbai terrorism, was originally created with the help of the ISI to fight India in Kashmir, and many security experts believe it retains a degree of official patronage. Moreover, as the failed attempt by the current Pakistani government to bring the ISI under its control earlier this year demonstrated, the Pakistani intelligence agency remains virtually a law unto itself as long as the military holds a strong sway over the civilian government in Pakistan.

Many Indians had hoped the Mumbai attacks would provide a tipping point in India's — and the West's — tolerance for Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. But until now, even India's modest demands — that suspects be extradited to India and terrorist infrastructure on Pakistani soil be dismantled — might go unmet, despite the Pakistani authorities' moves to close down some groups in response to a U.N. Security Council ruling. "Terrorist infrastructure will remain, there will be more attacks, history will keep repeating itself," says Chellaney. "Soon we will return to the familiar cycle."

See pictures of Mumbai sifting through the rubble.

See pictures of terror in Mumbai.