Bin Laden and South Asian peace

India and Pakistan flags Image copyright AFP
Image caption A stalemate does not help the neighbours

Sections of the Indian media and some pundits have been gloating about the fact that Osama Bin Laden was eventually found and killed in Pakistan by the US.

It is a familiar, triumphal "we-told-you-so" line, reminding the world that Pakistan was a haven for terrorists.

Some experts - egged on by a hysterical sabre-rattling media - have even been suggesting that India should also go into Pakistan and take out people like the cleric Hafiz Mohammad Saeed who have been blamed for plotting attacks against India. Foreign affairs guru Fareed Zakaria describes it as the rhetoric of India's strategic elite with its "Cold War fantasies".

Not surprisingly, this has evoked a harsh reaction from Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir who warned against such "misadventures" which could lead to a "terrible catastrophe", and headlines in the Indian newspapers as 'Hit by US, Pakistan barks at India'.

Much of this reckless talk, of course, has its roots in the grievous losses India has suffered in violence planned and executed by groups across the border, climaxing in the nightmare of the 2008 Mumbai (Bombay) attacks. But, as many seasoned experts say, India needs to keep its calm and pursue a more hard-nosed pragmatic policy towards Pakistan.

So it is heartening to hear from sources in the Indian government that India believes in a more reasoned and sober approach to Pakistan.

India cannot, say the sources, use what they call a "giant swatter" approach to Pakistan, like the US. "Unlike US, we live next door to Pakistan, our ties are deeper, and we were once the same country," they say. Also, nuclear-armed Pakistan is no pushover, and India could burn its fingers badly if it attempted an operation like the one which took out Bin Laden.

Will Bin Laden's killing have an impact on India-Pakistan talks, which got off the ground in recent months after a long frozen silence?

Not really, say Indian authorities.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Mumbai attack led to worsening of relations between the two countries

They say India is not interested in humiliating Pakistan, and that talks will continue. There are no great expectations, but what do you expect from early dialogue between two countries who do not trust each other? That the two sides are talking again is heartening enough.

The government also believes, quite correctly, that Bin Laden's death will not mean the end of terrorism. India, sources say, insists that Pakistan take even-handed, demonstrable action against all militant groups on its soil, irrespective of their ideologies and targets. There are worries in India that with increasingly closer links between the groups across the border there will be more attacks on India.

Many pundits have spoken about the US hastening its departure plans from Afghanistan, now that Bin Laden is dead.

This is a naïvely simplistic understanding of the situation, Indian sources believe. They say that the Americans have "learnt the lessons" of the post-Soviet withdrawal in Afghanistan, and they will not repeat it again. And there is no need to bristle about the blow-hot, blow-cold relationship between the US and Pakistan, the say. "This is unpalatable, but we will have to accept this," said a source.

But the two neighbours must keep talking because a hostile stalemate helps no one and deepens distrust. India and Pakistan direly need to trust each other - at least in cases where it is in their self-interest to co-operate.