This is the essential difference between the India-Pakistan standoff in 2002, after the Lashkar-e-Taiba attack on Parliament on 13 December 2001, and now. Earlier, the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled coalition ordered that the army be moved to India’s western border where it stood, eyeball-to-eyeball with the Pakistani army for nearly ten months.

To draw a parallel with the Mahabharata, a well-loved Indian epic in which two families fight a war in which both are almost destroyed, the BJP’s action was akin to a warrior pulling out a particularly deadly arrow from his arsenal, placing it against the skein of his bow, then stopping short, yawning, and indefinitely resting under the shade of the nearest tree.

The Congress party has done none of that. It seems to have understood that the army was, generally, pretty upset by the fact that it was used as a political instrument of war in 2002, especially since it has prided itself to have remained largely above politics, unlike the situation in Pakistan.

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Instead, the Congress collated all the national anger and resentment and told the nations of the world : act to dismantle the structure of terrorism within Pakistan, especially since several of your own nationals have also been killed in the Mumbai attacks.

So even as it sought to strike and hold the right note—a kind of restrained anger—Delhi, strangely, ordered that all visas issued by its High Commission in Pakistan be put under a 30-day moratorium. In addition, India’s high commissioner to Pakistan Satyabrata Pal called off the junior hockey team’s visit to Pakistan and recommended that the cricket team also not be allowed to tour that country.

Some would say this was the least India could do, especially after the horrendous manner in which 10 Pakistani terrorists wreaked mayhem and murder in Mumbai.

The point is, the Mumbai terrorists did not get a visa from the Indian high commission in Islamabad, before they set off on from Karachi and landed at Badhwar Park in Mumbai. Putting a visa moratorium for ordinary Pakistani citizens in place—at last count, the Islamabad mission issued about 10,000 visas per month, mostly to divided Muslim families who largely live in Pakistan’s Sindh province and want to visit family in Uttar Pradesh/Bihar—is plain silly, considering it goes totally against the spirit of promoting people-to-people interaction which has traditionally been the fulcrum of India’s Pakistan policy.

Najam Sethi, the well-known editor of one of Pakistan’s best known newspapers, the Friday Times as well as the Daily Times, was in Delhi over the weekend for a conference. Now, Sethi has fallen foul of several military dictators in Pakistan but still manages to stand up for the democratic spirit his country bravely displays from time to time. Fortunately, Sethi had got his visa well before the Indian moratorium kicked in, otherwise he would have been stuck in Lahore, eyeing the international border barely 30 kms away.

In fact, the Congress-led government’s crowning achievement vis-à-vis its Pakistan policy has been to put people at the centre of things. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh constantly talks about reducing the importance of the Line of Control, of obliterating it on the ground, so that Kashmiris from both sides can meet without having to submit visa applications in triplicate to whimsical bureaucrats on both sides. He said the same in Kashmir a few days ago, on the eve of yet another round of vigorous voting by Kashmiris in ongoing elections.

Unfortunately, it seems, that ordinary people have become a victim of some red-hot jingoists in Delhi today.

It took a visit by a group of Indian parliamentarians led by the irrepressible Lalu Prasad Yadav to Pakistan in 2003, to thaw the freeze that had set in after the December 2001 attacks. Yadav’s home-spun humour enamoured his Pakistani audience at the time, provoking several comparisons between India’s democratic spirit and the Army-run government in Pakistan.

A military strike against Pakistan cannot work because far too many innocent people will end up being killed, along with the intended targets of Mumbai’s terror. The Congress party sees this clearly, which is why it has rejected the BJP’s 2002 option. But the Congress party must also carry its restrained anger against Pakistan to its logical conclusion: Just as people from both sides must be brought back into the dialogue, similarly Delhi must hope to drive a wedge between elected people’s representatives and the army in Pakistan.

President Asif Ali Zardari in charge of the ISI? Only Delhi—and the Americans—can make this happen. Zardari’s interview to Lally Weymouth of Newsweek over the weekend indicates that he would like to agree.

Jyoti Malhotra is Mint’s diplomatic affairs editor and writes every week on the intersection of foreign policy, trade and politics.

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