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FALL GUY

It is not that much had been set store by the visit of the Pakistan interior minister, Rehman Malik, to India. But Mr Malik seems to have taken upon himself a role larger than the one he was expected to play while formalizing the visa agreement with India. Postponed temporarily by Indiaís previously-unannounced hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the visit, when it did occur, appears to have unleashed on the bilateral dialogue the full weight of the negative emotions aroused in Pakistan by the execution. The dead assassin hardly found mention during Mr Rehmanís visit, leave alone the contentious issue of his place of origin. But it is not easy to dismiss his long shadow, given the vicious edge added to Pakistanís usual nonchalance about all matters that touch a raw nerve in India. Seen this way, it would be less surprising that Mr Malik chose to dismiss the tortuous death of Captain Saurabh Kalia, allegedly at the hands of the Pakistan military, as having been caused by inclement weather. Even less surprising that he should speak of the Mumbai carnage and the Babri Masjid in the same breath, thereby upholding the argument that fundamentalist forces in his country use to justify terror attacks on neighbouring soil. It would also seem entirely expected that the Pakistan interior minister would turn logic, and all available evidence, on its head and accuse India of failing to prevent 26/11 by not reining in its own rogue intelligence agents such as Abu Jundal.

Mr Malik did not have to behave the way he has. As indicated by Indiaís home minister, Mr Malik could have stuck to the business of signing the visa agreement without indulging in verbal semantics over the importance of the Babri Masjid incident to the history of bilateral ties, the triviality of the Indian evidence against Hafiz Saeed or the possible cause of death of a Kargil hero. The gusto with which Mr Malik has rough-shouldered his host and made his visit such a talking point raises suspicions that he was aware of an audience at home and of the need to placate this audience on the eve of the polls early next year. This audience, tuned in to the fundamentalist rhetoric, has already shown its hold over the government by forcing it into several compromises that go against the normalization of India-Pakistan ties. Mr Malikís behaviour reaffirms his governmentís susceptibility to these pressures.