NEW DELHI — On May 12, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh traveled to Kabul for the first time since 2005, announcing $500 million in Indian aid, raising India's total contribution to $2 billion for developmental projects for Afghanistan and increasing cooperation on security issues between the two countries' governments, which share hostile relationships with Pakistan. A large contingent of Indian journalists filled the venue where Singh shared the stage with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Pakistan has been wary of the growing Indian influence in Kabul; in the past, Afghan and Indian officials have blamed the attacks on Indian establishments in Afghanistan on terrorist groups under the patronage of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, which has long used the Taliban and other militants as a proxy for destabilizing India in its near abroad.
Singh's pronouncements in Kabul were followed with great attention in Pakistan. An Indian journalist asked whether India would mount a covert action similar to the United States' Operation Neptune Spear to kill Osama bin Laden if it had credible evidence of fugitives wanted by India -- from leaders of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba to underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, accused of masterminding the 1993 Bombay blasts -- living in Pakistan. "These are sensitive issues and we don't discuss strategies on terror in press conferences," Singh replied. But he proceeded to downplay the possibility of India conducting a military raid on Pakistani territory by saying, "Experience in the past has been rather frustrating and disappointing. One cannot lose hope. Let me say one thing: I would like to say India is not like the United States."
Yet opinions vary within the Indian establishment. While Singh may sound quiescent notes, some Indian military chiefs and several senior leaders of the prime minister's Congress Party remain hawkish on the question of relations with Pakistan and the settlement of disputes like Kashmir. A few days after bin Laden's killing in Pakistan, reporters on tour with Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh asked him the same question: Could India go after Pakistan-based terrorists? A similar question was thrown at Indian Air Force chief P.V. Naik. The answer in both cases: Yes, we can.
Pakistan retaliated with counterwarnings. Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir remarked that such "misadventure" could lead to a "terrible catastrophe"-- sending a quick reminder of his volatile country's nuclear capabilities. Yet some Indian television anchors and strategic-affairs hawks, who make Rush Limbaugh sound like Joseph Nye, continued egging on the Indian government for a raid into Pakistan to assassinate men like Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, whom India holds responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
In a move characteristic of the country's competitive politics, India's main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, called on Singh to rethink his Pakistan policy and demand Ibrahim's extradition, noting that "talks and terror cannot coexist." Even within Singh's Congress Party, a majority of leaders were clamoring for an end to talks with Pakistan. "Singh is in a minority even in his party, but he resisted all the pressure to end talks with Pakistan," said an analyst familiar with those discussions.
In the past seven years, Singh has been foremost an advocate of Indian engagement with Pakistan aimed at resolving their several disputes, including the future of Kashmir. A slow process of meetings between Indian and Pakistani officials has lumbered on since late 2003, reaching its most fruitful moment in April 2005, when the two countries agreed to allow a bus service for divided families across the Line of Control (LOC), the de facto border between Indian-controlled and Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir.