Even as the government tries to evolve a coherent and meaningful policy for India to engage with Pakistan, the pertinent question arises: are we expecting too much from Pakistan?
In Pathankot’s case, if Pakistan denies involvement, it will be consistent with its historical approach of denial on all such issues. And there is every possibility that Pakistan army and its all-powerful inter service intelligence (ISI) would not do anything different this time.
Though the government seems conscious of the fact that it would be naïve to expect Pakistan to do anything other than beat around the bush on Pathankot, the options of talks are still not closed.
“Much would depend on Pakistan” said MEA sources in an obvious indication that the engagement would continue. Yet the dilemmas related to Indo-Pak relationship seem too complex to be resolved, they feel.
Officials in the Indian establishment are of the opinion that Pakistan's military establishment is not entirely on board with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on maintaining cordial relations with India. That Pakistan military establishment has still been playing 'good terrorist' versus 'bad terrorist' is evident in the Pathankot attack.
As of now, Pak military has shown no inclination in eliminating India-centric terrorist outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad or Lashkar-e-Taiba. The involvement of JeM terrorists in Pathankot is an indication of the complicity of the Pakistan military establishment — particularly the ISI —in the operation.
Obviously, the bonhomie generated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's impromptu Lahore stopover to greet Sharif on his birthday has evaporated sooner than expected.
However, pragmatism dictated Modi not to fritter away the gains altogether by launching the usual tirade against Pakistan.
This was precisely the reason why specific instructions went out to officials and top functionaries of the government to avoid attacking Pakistan directly. “We should not paint Pakistan into a corner” was the terse message to all government’s interlocutors with the media.
The Centre's less-than-strident approach against Pakistan on Pathankot attack was apparently curated to reduce the decibel level of India-Pakistan engagement and persuade the country’s political leadership to deliver. In a way, it was a message to Sharif to stand out as the country’s Prime Minister and be counted.
There is no doubt that for the first time, Pakistan seems to have got over their default mode of denial and has promised to carry out a probe based on evidence provided by India.
Contrast this with Pakistan’s refusal to even accept that Ajmal Kasab was its citizen in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and the marked change in approach is clear.
Is that enough though?
The question would stare in squarely in face of Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh as they meet this evening to chart out the future course of relations with Pakistan.
Of course, these two leaders would do nothing without concurrence of Modi who has been crafting a distinctly different policy towards Pakistan which does not carry the baggage of the past and is apparently fresh.
Insiders in the government feel that it would be naïve to expect Pakistan to roll back its anti-India policies overnight and eliminate terrorists.
A pragmatist to the core, Modi is certainly not oblivious of Pakistan’s predicament. Yet he seems convinced of the fact that his Lahore visit and his approach for developing South Asia on Europe model has all the potential of a game-changer in the subcontinent which must not be easily squandered.