There was an inevitability about the impasse in which the India-Pakistan dialogue process currently finds itself. Three reasons can be attributed.
First, ironically, the man who was instrumental in the planning of the 26/11 attacks has struck again from his cell in distant Chicago.
David Headley has spoken to the American and Indian interrogators about the direct involvement of the Pakistani army officers and of the Inter-Services Intelligence in the Mumbai attacks.
The trail is leading dangerously close to the Pakistani military leadership, since the Mumbai attacks could well have been at the planning stage when the present army chief, General Pervez Kayani, was heading the ISI.
If the investigation into the Pakistani role in the 26/11 attacks is taken to its logical conclusion thoroughly and meticulously, it is bound to rock the Pakistani military establishment to its foundation.
The point is, 26/11 was an abominable war crime, no less. And someone in Rawalpindi is to be accountable for it.
Quite obviously, the Pakistani military can't take it anymore. It simply wants to shake off the Indians who are locked into a 'dialogue' with the civilian government in Islamabad that is inch by inch, mile by mile, incontrovertibly implicating the ISI directly in the Mumbai attacks.
You could make out from a mile that Foreign Minister Qureshisaheb spoke to the media in such haste and in an uncharacteristically rude fashion while his Indian counterpart was still to take off from Chaklala air base -- a diplomatic discourtesy of the highest order -- only because his tail was on fire.
In all probability, the civilian leaders were given a dressing down by the generals in Rawalpindi and told to get their act together to pull out of the dialogue.
Secondly, Pakistan is sensing that there could be big trouble brewing in Jammu & Kashmir and is gearing up to take advantage of any political turmoil in the valley.
Fortunately for Pakistan, the inept performance of the state leadership in Srinagar in the past year or two -- and New Delhi's grave failure to anticipate that the ground was shifting so dangerously in the valley -- is opening a window of opportunity for it to stoke the fires of Kashmiri alienation and to pitchfork the Kashmir issue onto the international agenda.
No amount of hysteria that the ISI is fomenting the trouble for Omar Abdullah will wash. The Pakistani military is expecting that the time is approaching to persuade the United States to directly get involved in the Kashmir problem as quid pro quo for the sort of help that Washington expects Islamabad to render to bring the Afghan war to an end.
The hardcore Pakistani assessment is that US President Barack Obama no more has the stomach to pursue the Afghan war. The Islamabad commentators are keenly watching that Obama's popularity rating has dipped below 40 percent, that his stimulus plan fails to work and that in the November elections the Republicans will most probably capture at least one of the two Houses of the US Congress, if not both.
That is to say, by next year this time, they expect that the Obama presidency will come under enormous pressure to wind down the war and to finesse an exit strategy. The Pakistani military's hope is that the Americans will be crawling on their fours in a year's time and beseeching Rawalpindi to bail them out in Afghanistan by getting the Taliban to talk.
Thirdly, Pakistan is estimating that its longstanding agenda to gain 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan is coming close to realisation. Islamabad wants as part of an Afghan settlement the US to recognise its preponderant influence over any future power structure in Kabul. The Pakistani military has begun publicly posturing about its capacity to bring the recalcitrant elements within the Taliban to the negotiating table.
he indications are that the ISI will manipulate the Taliban and ensure that only those elements who are 'dependable' in their hostility toward India are brought into the power structure in any settlement -- such as the Haqqani network.
How do these hostile intentions pan out?
The ISI plan will be to try to put India in the dock on the Kashmir issue by vitiating the ground situation in the valley in any way that it can, which will divert attention from the 26/11 dossier.
The old ISI strategy of waging an asymmetrical war is still in place. The Pakistani military's intentions are quite clear: Afghan territory will be used for carrying out subversive activities against India, as used to be the case in the late 1990s.
In sum, there is really no desire on the part of Pakistan to meaningfully engage India at the political and diplomatic level at this juncture. The Pakistani calculation is that time is working in its favour and simply by sitting out for another year or so, Islamabad can negotiate from a position of advantage.
To be sure, a very tough period lies ahead for New Delhi. Unlike the case with India where the competitive environment of party politics is precluding a national consensus on the diplomatic and political approach to be taken toward Pakistan, there is a high level of political consolidation apparent within the power structure in Islamabad.
The Pakistani civilian politicians are bending over backward to conform to the military's brief on relations with India.
Two, the strong likelihood is that the ISI is exaggerating its capacity to foment trouble in the valley and trigger an 'intifada'. But the Indian State is not about to rollover. The stage is getting ready for violence and bloodshed.
Three, Pakistan is overestimating its capacity to pitchfork a Taliban regime into power in Kabul. The fact of the matter is that the Taliban enjoys very little popular support among Afghans, and as for Pakistan, the overwhelming majority of Afghans, including among Pashtuns, resent Pakistan's blatant interference in the affairs of their country.
The frustration will mount in Rawalpindi when the Pakistani military's plans to impose a pliant regime in Kabul go awry. And there is a very real danger that the ISI may precipitate some major terrorist act in India in the months ahead so as to force a direct US intervention in the India-Pakistan relationship.
The danger of such an eventuality has always been there in recent years but in the coming period there is a qualitative difference insofar as the US has a high level of dependency on the Pakistani military to 'deliver' in Afghanistan.
India's options are few. Can it drop its insistence on taking the 26/11 file to its bitter end? No elected government in New Delhi can adopt a policy of 'kiss-and-make-up' on the 26/11 file, given the public mood in the country regarding the horrendous nature of the crime that the ISI perpetrated.
But on the contrary, if Delhi presses ahead with its case, incorporating David Headley's testimony et al, Pakistani military will come under compulsion at some stage to retaliate.
There is no likelihood of the Pakistani military ever bending to acknowledge the ISI's involvement in the Mumbai attacks. The question of the Pakistani military accepting the rationale of any atonement simple doesn't arise, either.
Conceivably, the only party that can force the Pakistani military's hands will be the US. In a manner of speaking, therefore, the Pakistani military is also queering the pitch of the US-India strategic partnership. The American version is this week's visit by US National Security Advisor General Jim Jones to New Delhi aimed at 'fortifying' the US-India strategic partnership.
However, will the US venture onto a dangerous course of confronting the Pakistani military when its own chestnuts are in the fire in Afghanistan? Next week's US-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Islamabad, the second such high-level interaction in the past four months alone, should provide some answers as to how far Washington will be prepared to go to deal with the Pakistani military's practice of a la carte terrorism.
The best hope is that between now and Obama's expected visit to India in November, US diplomacy succeeds in putting the India-Pakistan dialogue process back on track.
The big question, however, remains: Will the Indian establishment be prepared to forget the past and forgive the ISI for perpetrating the Mumbai attacks?