Going by his Tweet, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had invited himself to Pakistan when he told his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, before leaving Kabul that he will ‘drop by’ in his home city while returning to India. But there are reports that his all too brief visit to Lahore on way back home from Russia and Afghanistan was actually planned in advance—one TV celebrity insists that an Indian businessman was instrumental in arranging Modi’s flying visit to the eastern Pakistani city.
One thing that cannot be disputed is that Modi, a known Hawk, now wants to be seen as a dove in his approach towards Pakistan. Is this change for real? Perhaps not unless Modi is able to bring his ‘Parivar’, the family of many right-wings ‘Hindu’ outfits, on board.
It is generally assumed that since Modi has emerged as a very powerful leader he can bring these outfits round to his point of view. If—a big ‘if’ at the moment-- that happens, the critical noises made by the Opposition parties in India will become inconsequential. It is possible that given the hyper nationalism of the ruling BJP he can influence Indian public opinion to his way of thinking. The more difficult part will be to bring about a change in the Pakistani mindset.
Anti-Pakistani feelings may be rampant in India but these are not even half as ferocious as the anti-Indian mindset of the Pakistanis who have hatred and distrust for ‘Hindu India’ in their genes. They define Pakistan as the antithesis of India. Their counterparts in India are perhaps the advocates of ‘Akhand Bharat’. But that is a sentiment that fires the imagination of only a section of Indians, largely in the Hindi heartland.
Eager to leave a memorable legacy, Modi seems to be saying that he now realizes that it is in India’s best interest to befriend Pakistan. He perhaps hopes to silence critics of his new approach towards Pakistan by claiming that he is carrying forward the work done by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
From the time the National Security Advisers of the two countries met ‘secretly’ in the Thai capital on November 20 followed by a visit of the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to Islamabad a few days later, Modi has been signaling that he would explore all avenues of improving relations between the two bitter, nuclear-armed neighbours.
Washington and the rest of the world capitals are heaving a sigh of relief. So are the ‘candle lights at Wagah’ crowds in India who have persistently refused to see any evil in the Pakistani policy of ‘bleeding India by a thousand cuts’. Not everyone in India has taken an optimistic view of the Modi-Sharif meeting though. But there has been no dearth of those who see that meeting as a ‘historic’ or ‘path breaking’ event. India-Pakistan relations have often been viewed in hyperbolic terms, leading to (a few) ups and (more) downs.
The Pakistanis have been more guarded in predicting the future course of bilateral relations after the Modi-Sharif meeting on Christmas Day, 2015. The radical elements in Pakistan who influence Pakistan’s India policy in alignment with the army continue to oppose building good neighbourly relations with India.
The Opposition Pakistan People’s Party rushed to talk of Indian ‘aggressiveness’ rather than be more specific in reacting to the meeting of the two prime ministers. The de facto foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, advised his countrymen not to expect much. The Pakistani media too has no illusions that the mutual bitterness will not disappear in the near future. In fact, the media’s overall tone did not encourage optimism.
The ‘influential’ English daily, Dawn, wondered if the Modi-Sharif meeting was anything more than a ‘photo op’. It lamented that the ‘outcome’ of their talks had not been disclosed, hinting its disappointment that Kashmir, the obsession of Pakistanis of all hues, ‘liberals’ included, was probably not discussed.
The paper offered another clue why Pakistan cannot expect any meaningful breakthrough in its bitter relationship with its eastern neighbour. It picked up three factors that it said could derail prospects of good relations between the old foes, all blaming India—its public, media and security institutions.
It is laughable to suggest, as the paper that was founded by the votary of Two Nation theory and the founder of Pakistan apparently did, that the ‘people, the media and the security institutions’ in Pakistan are apostles of peace and friendship. If the blame game continues in Pakistan, Modi’s unconventional style of diplomacy will not make any difference.
Another leading publication, The News International from the Jang stable that once declared that it is ‘proud’ of putting out ‘maximum’ anti-India stories even when being a part of the ‘Aman ki Asha’ (hope for peace) initiative, asked why no details of ‘political talk’ (Kashmir, of course?) between the two leaders were available. Its television arm, however, claimed that ‘Kashmir’ was discussed. But ‘talking’ alone does not satisfy the Pakistanis; they want the ‘disputed’ state to be handed over to the Land of the Pure.
Another Pakistani paper, The Express Tribune that is run in collaboration with an American liberal daily, would have us believe that the meeting between the two leaders was the outcome of the efforts of the all-powerful military in Pakistan. That is hardly much of a disclosure because the world knows that the supreme authority in Pakistan actually rests with the men in Khaki.
But The Nation of Lahore which is firmly in the anti-Sharif camp these days, declared on front page (Dec 27, 2015): “Security quarters not much happy with Modi’s surprise”. Consider this excerpt from the dispatch by the daily’s star correspondent Jawad R Awan: “ The security establishment, a key player in the efforts for regional peace especially with rival India, has been taken by surprise by the sudden visit of Indian Prime Minister Narenedra Modi to Jati Umra (Sharifs home), security sources told The Nation yesterday. The security quarters are watching the aftermath of the development with care, though they are keeping mum. Sudden actions sometimes invite suspicion instead of goodwill….The security quarters believe that democratically-elected government can succeed in negotiating some key issues with Delhi but it can happen only when the security establishment is taken into confidence prior to each action, big or small”
Well, is the Nation cautioning the world that history could repeat after the second visit to Lahore by an Indian Prime Minister? Crystal gazing is a hazardous occupation even for the best practitioners of the art. One thing can be said with no fear of contradiction. By his visit to Sharif’s family home on the Pak Premier’s birth day, Narendra Modi has fortified Indian defenses, diplomatically speaking. And if history repeats, it will prove to the world once for all that you cannot trust Pakistan. And that peace in the sub-continent will remain a hostage to the Pakistani army which refuses to give up its dream of grabbing the whole of Kashmir.