At a crucial time when a terrorist attack has been averted on the eve of the Republic Day, ostensibly traced to individuals from Pakistan, India's Nuclear Command Authority is without its master, the Prime Minister and thus no better than a bunch of, 'headless chicken' a phrase made famous by the Indian Ambassador to the United States Ronen Sen.
The inevitable happened less than 60 days after the Mumbai mayhem. Two terrorists have been gunned down by the Uttar Pradesh police on the outskirts of the Capital in NOIDA. The individuals named as Farooq, a resident of Okara in Pakistan, and his companion as Abu Ismail from Rawalakot have once again been traced to India's western neighbor. It was a timely interception avoiding perhaps a major mishap in the Indian capital on the Republic Day. However it is not clear if there are any accomplices of this group, thus all round vigilance is being maintained.
India's Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh is in the Cardiac Care Unit of the AIIMS, a premier government health care institute recovering from a second bye pass surgery. Surprisingly there is no arrangement such as a Deputy Prime Minister obviously on political grounds, as the Sonia-Manmaohan-Rahul trio would not like another power centre to emerge, though Mr. Pranab Mukherjee is eminently suitable to take high level decisions and is a worthy stand bye Prime Minister.
While the political reasons and implications of this decision could be debatable, this is also depriving the country's Nuclear Command Authority the head of its Political Council tasked to take the critical decision of pressing the nuclear button. At a time when relations with Pakistan continue to be strained, this lapse is particularly noticeable.
Fortunately, despite indications on the ground, the signaling between Indian and Pakistan over the past few days has been positive. The pronouncements emanating from Islamabad in the past few days have been encouraging though a consistent trend has to be observed. There is now realization that the threat from radicalization of the FATA and Swat is much greater to Pakistani society than from India. Thus the focus is now probably turning towards the West. While Swat is in the midst of anarchy of sorts with the Taliban and their cohorts completely taking over the area, the other areas of Mohmand and Bajaur have also been in revolt despite presence of large number of troops.
On the other hand with Indian Prime Minster Mr Manmohan Singh in the hospital and no clear head of the government appointed in his place, there is no fear in Pakistan of a war with India and the rhetoric of, 'all options' from New Delhi is also likely to prove to be banal.
The United States policy in the region is now clearly linking Afghanistan and Pakistan and thus the Pakistan President was the first to be called up by Hillary Clinton on taking charge as the Secretary of State. This signifies a new integrated strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than a separate one for both the countries. In the integrated strategy the diplomatic leverages that the US has against Pakistan are limited but these include some powerful tools for engagement and the incentive linked package of aid is one which the Secretary of State and the US envoy nominated Mr. Holbrooke would be using quite often mostly in subtle ways. Pakistan would be certainly asking for some concessions on Kashmir and may hyphenate the issue of assistance to the US with the talks and negotiations on the same.
The clear message given by the Obama-Biden team to Islamabad to deliver is also one of the factors which could have led to this change. The Pakistani elite is very flexible in its approach and is easily adjustable to such changes therefore this nuanced approach was anticipated.
The Pakistani establishment has to determine for itself that it is in its overall interest to control the militancy and though claims of 400 plus militants having apprehended from Khyber are being made, the militants have very effectively taken hold of Swat province which is a set back. The plea that more actions would lead to losses is not likely to wash with the public now and the government would have to take necessary actions to ensure that peace and tranquility is restored.
The final factor remains that of the domestic pressure with more and more civil society organizations and media blaming the government for loss of control in FATA there was perhaps no option for Islamabad to act. This public opinion should also force the government for effectively clamping down on the terrorist groups at home and directed towards India that would force the government to take a path of long term reconciliation. This may take some time to build and hence we need to await a change.
For New Delhi this change of heart in Pakistan is welcome at a time when it has no single person heading its Nuclear Chain of Command and this state may continue over the next few weeks. So what sort of a nuclear power is India without an effective decision maker at the helm?