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T N Ninan: Different this time?

A news report has said “Pakistan moved aggressively Thursday against an Islamic charity with links to militants suspected in the Mumbai attacks, freezing the group’s assets, putting its leaders under house arrest and padlocking its offices. The moves against Jamat-ud-Dawa could help convince India and the United States that Pakistan is cracking down on militants … .”

In case you’re thinking that Pakistan may be turning a new leaf, with its latest promise of moving against 10 terrorist organisations, including the Jamat-ud-Dawa and the Haqqani network, the reality check is provided by the passage above; it is taken from a report on Yahoo.com that dates back to December 2008, a fortnight after the fidayeen attack on Mumbai. Given this history, it is hard for anyone in India to believe that Pakistan is capable of turning over a new leaf; each such posture ends up being exposed as just that: more posturing. Still, one wonders if we might be seeing the beginnings of change.

First, there is the escalating battle between the Pakistan army and terrorist outfits, the attack on a school for army children, and the altogether new situation of about a lakh Pakhtun refugees seeking safe harbour on the Afghan side of the Durand Line. Reflecting the new level of attrition, the country has recently expanded the role of military courts. At such a troubled time for the country, the Modi government’s policy of a disproportionate response to Pakistani provocations across the border and the Line of Control seems to have had some effect too – if one is to judge by the nervous comments aired on sundry TV channels in Pakistan (available on YouTube). An army that is busy fighting jihadi forces on the country’s western border is apparently not enthused by the prospect of simultaneously having to deal with a more aggressive neighbour on its eastern front.

These come along with TV comments reflecting growing consciousness that Pakistan has been losing friends, that it can’t find many sympathetic ears for its bleats against India, and has been put in the shade by India’s rise. Then there are the economic troubles-not new, but bothersome nevertheless. There is a massive petrol shortage, and Pakistan State Oil has no funds to increase supplies. CNG (compressed natural gas) supplies have been shut for four months. Power cuts range from 12 to 18 hours. Per capita income has been growing at less than two per cent, and is unlikely to accelerate on account of low savings and investment rates.

The internal unrest has affected the all-important China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that is to link Gwadar port on the Baluchi coast to Kashgar in Sinkiang with a rail connection, gas and oil pipelines, and special economic zones over a distance of 2,000 km. The corridor is being realigned in order to avoid as much as possible the troubled provinces of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, and go through Punjab instead, but that raises issues in Punjab. Remember also that Xi Jinping could not visit Pakistan a few months ago because of the political turmoil in that country. Pakistan may be useful to China on account of its hostile posture to India, and for the access it provides to the Arabian Sea, but China is not about to put its money in places where the security of its investment and personnel cannot be assured.

None of this is to suggest that Pakistan has had its epiphany, or that it is about to modify its posture on key issues involving India. But it does suggest that the country is in a mood to ask itself questions. It will be interesting to see if it comes up with new answers, or goes back to the old ones.

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