Despite the rhetoric against having a ‘soft’ attitude towards Pakistan, the BJP whenever they come to power pursue a different path towards the country’s western neighbour. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Lahore to greet Nawaz Sharif on his birthday, many were drawing a parallel on how Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried to have friendly relations with the country, which the Sangh Parivar often describes as an enemy.
But after Vajpayee’s 1999 Lahore bus trip, came the ill-fated Agra Summit in which negotiations broke down, putting bilateral relations in rough water. Now, will Pathankot turn out to be another Agra? However, Sharif is no Musharraf, and 2016 is not 2001. The message Pakistan sent after the deadly attack by terrorists on Pathankot and the Modi government’s considered reaction to it seem to herald a new chapter in the relations between the two countries.
In contrast to his earlier criticism of the previous UPA government’s soft policy on Pakistan, Modi started his rule with a difference in that he invited Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony. But the warmth did not last for long. Soon after, the Modi government took a stubborn stand in dealing with Pakistan by calling off talks when the Pak envoy decided to meet Hurriyat leaders.
The stand-off between the two countries continued until both the national security advisors met in Bangkok on 6 December. Following that, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also visited Islamabad and met Sharif.
Modi’s visit to Lahore on Christmas day, called a ‘surprise stop over’ although the Opposition derided it as ‘nothing more than an adventure’ was another step.
Modi reportedly said to his counterpart in Lahore — “Ab to aana jaana laga rahega (Now we will keep seeing each other more often).” Sharif later said, “The Indian prime minister came to Lahore and gave us his few hours. It is high time the countries put aside their hostilities. Goodwill gestures are the solution to many an ill.”
Foreign secretaries of both the nations decided to meet on 15 January to lay down a roadmap to continue the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. However, within a week everything has changed with the Pathankot attack.
India demanded a “prompt and decisive action” against the perpetrators and provided “actionable intelligence” to reveal the role of Pak perpetrators. Also, India made it clear that the dialogue will go ahead only after Pakistan takes stern action against the perpetrators. For their part, Pakistan also responded in a better way than earlier. They constituted a top committee comprising intelligence, military and other top investigating officers. Just 36 hours before the scheduled FS level talks, they detained main suspects of the terror attack including Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar.
PK Hormis Tharakan, former chief of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) says, “The government must have been aware of these often-tried tactics of terror groups when they initiated the dialogue process.
“Swaraj had also hinted that spoilers will attempt to derail the process. Apart from terrorism, both countries are now trying to start comprehensive dialogues involving trade and other issues, which the terrorists want to stall. Then the government’s natural instinct should be to take forward the dialogue.”
The first such recognised armed provocation was the Kargil conflict which followed the 1999 Lahore meet between Vajpayee and Sharif. Dibyesh Anand, associate professor at Westminster University says, “Non-state actors, apparently funded and supported by Pakistan for its proxy wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir in the past, feel anxious with the efforts put forward by the Pakistani government to normalise relations with neighbours and would want conflict to continue so that they continue to operate with impunity.”
Just two weeks after the FS’s visit to Pakistan as part of the SAARC meet, they attacked Samba and Kathua in Jammu. Similarly just after Modi and Sharif’s meet at Ufa in Russia, there was an attack in Gurdaspur. But this time India and Pakistan seem to be determined not to allow the terrorists groups to usurp the agenda. Also, Washington’s pressure on both the countries to go ahead with the talks also kept New Delhi and Pakistan away from aggressive behaviour in the time of crisis. The talks initiated by the US on Taliban in Afganistan have also influenced Indo-Pak relations.
With inputs from Ajmal Aramam