Leading article: Pakistan needs to finish the job

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The Independent Online

The victims of the massacre in Mumbai now have at least a small portion of justice. Ajmal Qasab, the sole surviving member of the Pakistani group that perpetrated the outrage in November 2008, was convicted of murder in a Mumbai court yesterday.

But it is perilously unclear whether Qasab's conviction will lead to an improvement or a deterioration in Indian-Pakistani relations. There has been deep distrust from the very beginning. Immediately after the attack, Islamabad denied that its nationals could have been responsible. Such suggestions were dismissed as Indian propaganda. It was not until three months later that a Pakistani minister admitted that the attack had indeed been planned on its territory. And the admission only seemed to come because Qasab's testimony to the Indian police made denial untenable.

Seven individuals have since been charged in Pakistan for planning the attack. And Islamabad has closed several schools run by a charity linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror group, to which the attackers belonged. But Hafiz Muhammad Saeed – Lashkar's founder – remains at liberty in Lahore. And there are suspicions that Saeed is still being protected by his old allies in the Pakistani intelligence services.

There has certainly been a major shift in policy in Pakistan. The security establishment has turned on its old Taliban allies. And the army has been moved from Kashmir to the western tribal regions to combat domestic militants. But the state has not yet engaged in a similar crackdown on the jihadists of Kashmir, which it nurtured and encouraged while they were useful proxies in the struggle against India. There remains a perception that militant groups are tolerated if they concentrate their violence on Indian interests, rather than the Pakistani state. This half-hearted reform is a risk. There is a danger that Indian nationalists will exploit Qasab's conviction to stoke public anger over Pakistan's export of terrorism and plunge relations between the two countries into a fresh crisis.

That would be a disaster for both President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who want to see an improvement in relations. The Indian government needs to neutralise its domestic hotheads. But the greater onus for action lies with Islamabad. Pakistan has come a long way in facing up to the monster of domestic jihadism, for which it deserves international credit and support. But now it needs to finish the job, however painful.