It seems that Prime Minister Narendra Modi loves to give and take surprises and is adherent of the idea which suggests you to think the unthinkable, to achieve the impossible. Mr Modi perfectly demonstrated that out of the box kind of thinking when he visited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on his way back home from Kabul on Dec 25. Narendra Modi greeted Nawaz Sharif on his 66th birthday and his granddaughter and her would-be husband all his best wishes.
Last two months brought a positive momentum in Indo-Pak relations. The meeting between the two premiers on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Summit in November was followed by the secret NSA-level talks in Bangkok. Following which the Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj attended the Heart of Asia ministerial conference in Islamabad –on the sidelines of which it was declared that both the countries would soon initiate a comprehensive dialogue process.
Finally the two premiers in Lahore agreed that bonds between India and Pakistan would be strengthened so that an atmosphere can be created in which the peace process can move forward.
Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told media “the two premiers decided that foreign secretaries from both the countries should meet in Islamabad by the middle of January and carry forward the dialogue process.”
Aizaz Chauhdhary also confirmed that FS-level talks between India and Pakistan would be comprehensive which includes strengthening of political, cultural and economic ties as well as addressing security and border issues between the two countries.
Narendra Modi’s surprise stopover in Lahore has been widely applauded from each corner as a welcoming move. Following the recent endeavors to normalize Indo-Pak relations. Modi’s stopping by in Lahore has been viewed by analysts, diplomats, and politicians as a new beginning where there will be no looking back.
Siddharth Varadarajan, a founding editor at The Wire, an Indian news site said “Modi’s visit to Lahore signals to everyone that there will be no more U-turns.”
Sushma Swaraj hailed PM Modi’s surprise stopover in Lahore as statesman’s visit. “That’s like a statesman. One should have such relations with neighbors” she tweeted.
MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said “the trip infused a positive spirit in the neighborhood.”
Kashmiri leaders also welcomed Modi’s visit to Pakistan. Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umer Farooq termed Modi’s stopover in Lahore “a positive move”.
Whereas, hard-line faction leader Syed Ali Shah – while approving the move – urged both the countries to resolve the Kashmir issue first as per the aspirations of the people for these endeavors to be successful.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also welcomed Narendra Modis’s surprise visit. Nonetheless he believed that continuous dialogues are necessary to resolve all the issues between India and Pakistan.
“Constant engagement is the only way to resolve all outstanding issues”, Bilawal tweeted.
There were those as well who did not endorse Modi’s surprised diplomatic gesture. Congress party in India strictly opposed Modi’s leaning toward Pakistan by terming it a “ridiculous move”.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said “Modi’s approach is frivolous, unpredictable and marked by fits, starts and U-turns.” Mr Sharma further argued what are the benefits the visit has for India? What are the assurances Modi is bringing back?
PPP’s senator Sherry Rehman also said that while most Pakistanis back better ties, parliament has not been consulted and it is unclear what concessions Islamabad is ready to make.
“It’s a small step because we don’t know what kind of sustainable program is based around it. We don’t know if this is more than a grand gesture”, she told AFP.
International and national media of the two countries viewed the surprise birthday gift to PM Nawaz Sharif from variety of angles. International media believed that Modi’s personal diplomacy confirmed that India would engage Pakistan in a comprehensive dialogue process which is likely to boost their strained relationship.
Los Angeles Times wrote that, “Modi’s surprise visit negated the tensions between the two countries that have worsened in the 19 months since Modi came to power.”
“With this types of spontaneous personal diplomacy Mr Modi appeared to send a strong public message that ambiguous course he has taken toward Pakistan has shifted to embrace engagement, not confrontation,” wrote the New York Times.
Dawn newspaper in Pakistan said PM Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan should be welcomed by all right thinking people because now he seems willing to engage Pakistan in comprehensive dialogues as opposed to his insistence on a one point agenda i.e. terrorism.
Hindustan Times in its editorial said that Modi’s personalized diplomacy has helped push forward the diplomatic ties between the two countries. However, the editorial stressed that gestures like this further national interest only if they are embedded in a large diplomatic strategy.
Another report by the newspaper also quoted an unnamed close aide to PM Modi as saying “the visit was a spontaneous decision by the Premier and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and that it should not be seen as a sudden shift in India’s position.”
India Today in its one such report said that “stealth seems to be the new tactic adopted by Modi and his government in their dealings with Pakistan –to keep media, hardliners and detractors at bay.”
“Beyond the noise, a personal connect. The PMs discuss India-Pak relationship at Raiwind”, Vikas Swarup tweeted as well.
Times of India in its editorial said PM Modi is personally invested in the India-Pak relationship. The newspaper wrote it is better that Modi wants to conduct substantive engagement away from limelight as a traditional build-up to an Indian PM’s visit to Pakistan brings all kinds of pressure from different interest groups to bear on the two governments.
The Hindu’s editorial viewed Modi’s pit stop in Lahore on his way back from Kabul as a transformational moment for India. “By making the journey from Kabul to Lahore, Modi has transformed Afghanistan from a battlefield between India and Pakistan into a facilitator of good relations”, said the editorial.
Narendra Modi’s arrival in Lahore from Kabul was significant as both the countries are involved in exercising influence in Afghanistan. India alleges Pakistan for supporting Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. In his address to newly Indian-built Afghan Parliament, Modi indirectly alleged Pakistan for cross-border terrorism. Whereas Islamabad also charges that India sponsor’s rebel groups in Pakistan and is concerned about growing Indian influence in Afghanistan. The fact that COAS Gen Raheel Sharif was due to visit Afghanistan after Christmas was also significant to Modi’s short stay in Lahore. In a way Modi perhaps wants to normalize Indo-Pak ties to achieve his motives in Afghanistan.
Wall Street Journal also wrote that Modi’s visit to Pakistan could improve the prospects for stability in Afghanistan, where analysts say their rivalry is a driver of that country’s long running war.
National and foreign media also claimed that Pakistan Army played the role in the resumption of talks between India and Pakistan. Significantly because of newly appointed national security advisor, General Retd Naseer Khan Janjua – it’s been widely viewed that military is officially backing the revival of talks with India.
Express Tribune in one of its reports wrote with reference to some disclosed officials that Pakistan Army paved the way for reviving a stalled dialogue with India this year, a thaw leading to the first visit to Pakistan by an Indian premier in almost 12 years.
Los Angeles Times claimed that, “expectations for the talks have been growing in Pakistan since Sharif appointed a recently retired army general, Naseer Khan Janjua, as his national security advisor and gave him a key role in the dialogue process.”
Gen Janjua is said to be close to Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and is experienced enough to deal with India on thorny issues of terrorism as well as security and border conflicts. This official backing and ownership of peace talks by Pak Army signals that Pakistan has renewed confidence for the revival of composite dialogues with India.
“This round of talks is different because there is backing from the top where it matters… the army chief is himself on board”, Express Tribune quoted an unnamed top diplomat as saying before the visit.
Some folks in both the countries also believed steel magnate Sajjan Jindal’s presence in Lahore as responsible for Modi’s stopover there. Indian journalist Barkha Dutt hailed Modi’s visit as a “masterstroke” and tweeted that the man who she claims had earlier arranged a secret meeting between the two leaders in Nepal, was also present in Pakistan.
Sajjan Jindal confirmed Dutt’s claim by tweeting, “In Lahore to greet PM Nawaz Sharif on his birthday.”
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan also said that meetings arranged by a business associate between the prime ministers reflect conflict of interest and undermine a process whereby tensions can be eased.
“We welcome the thaw in Pak-India relations, but to have a business associate arrange the two prime ministers’ meetings have an underlying conflict of interest,” he tweeted.
Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan heightened the hopes that both the countries would go to build meaningful and comprehensive ties with each other. Modi’s commitment to engage Pakistan reflected that both the countries want to forge their cooperation and reduce the tensions over border conflict, security, terrorism and other issues.
Unfortunately, the Indian Air Force (AIF) base attack in Pathankot again put all the hopes in doldrums. Following the fateful incident, Indian government appeared uncertain about the upcoming FS-level talks as it has provided Pakistan with the leads on the incident and demanded the latter would first have to act against the perpetrators. However, sources in the Indian government confirmed there might be a meeting between national security advisors of the two countries before the FS-level talks which are scheduled for Jan 15 but it didn’t happen.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said there will be no forward movement by India until Pakistan responds to Indian concerns i.e. cross-border terrorism.
Swarup added that talks would be held only if Pakistan made good on its promise to “promptly and decisively” act on the evidence provided to Islamabad on the Pathankot attacker.
Such statements reflect deficit of trust is the main issue which is plaguing Pak-India relationship. What we should learn is that problems can only be resolved by talking and listening to each other. India and Pakistan should keep their promise that, come what may, even in worst of the scenarios both the countries would be in touch with each other.