To Rawalpindi, via Kabul

Optimists might yet hope that Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will undo some of the damage he did last week by making nice to Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on the margins of an international conference in Kabul on Tuesday. But don't bet on it.

Qureshi's behaviour might have been outrageous in terms of diplomatic protocol, but there is nothing personal to it. In any case, Qureshi is unlikely to have much time for Krishna in Kabul.

Qureshi, a feudal from southern Punjab with a penchant for the theatrical, has every reason to preen on the international stage he has this week in Kabul. Thanks to his army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani's shuttle diplomacy to Kabul in recent weeks, Pakistan has acquired a pivotal position in the political transition that is beginning to unfold in Afghanistan.

Some in Delhi interpret Qureshi's unexpected decision to walk back from the prior understandings so carefully crafted in the weeks before Krishna's visit to Islamabad as having something to do with the statement of Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai, made in an interaction at this newspaper a couple of days before the talks.

Some see Pillai's affirmation on the role of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence as a needless provocation on the eve of the talks; others read it as an opportunity that Kayani simply seized. The Pillai episode should not distract us from a larger difficulty that has enveloped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's efforts to revive the peace process with Pakistan.

Seen from Delhi, the Mumbai trail leads relentlessly to the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the ISI. As the former director general of the ISI, the current army chief, and the most consequential political figure in Pakistan, Kayani has no incentive to put his prime instruments against India in the dock just because they plotted the 26/11 attacks.

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