The India-Pakistan moment in the picturesque lake town of Pokhara took place Thursday, with a bilateral between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart Sartaj Aziz.
Being the first meeting since the Pathankot terror attack, the conversation expectedly focused on the investigations.
“It’s not possible that I and Pakistan foreign affairs adviser meet and the Pathankot issue is not taken up. Yes, it was discussed,” Swaraj told reporters after the talks. A Pakistan joint investigation team will visit India on 27 March and begin work the next day, Swaraj said.
The Pathankot terror attack had been a test case for Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had taken the initiative to visit Lahore and greet Nawaz Sharif on his birthday.
Though the foreign secretary level talks which were to follow in January are on hold, the two sides continue to engage. The NSA’s talk regularly on the phone. So far this is the new element that Modi brought into the relationship but whether it will work remains to be seen. Much will depend on whether Pakistan finally delivers on its promise of co-operating on terror and if finally there is justice not just for Pathankot victims but for families of the Mumbai attack of 2008. That remains a searing memory in the psyche of most Indians.
Prime Minister Sharif had ordered a joint investigation by Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau, Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Federal Investigation Agency and police to probe the Pathankot attack links to Pakistan. This was announced shortly after the daring strike on India’s frontline airbase.
The fact that New Delhi has agreed to allow a Pakistan team to come here to assist in tracking the terror trail speaks volumes for the new found maturity between the two countries.
In the past, a team from Islamabad would never have been allowed in. Initial murmurs of disquiet from certain expected quarters were soon squashed as the green signal came from none other than the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval himself.
While Pathankot investigations was high on India’s priority list, Pakistan is keen to ensure that Modi travels to Islamabad late this year for the Saarc summit in Islamabad. Aziz handed over an invitation to Swaraj for the Prime Minister from Nawaz Sharif.
Though neither Swaraj or Aziz spoke about it, it is evident that the two also cleared the grounds for an eventual meeting in Washington between the two prime ministers. Both Modi and Sharif will be in the US for President Barack Obama’s nuclear summit scheduled for the end of March. It was after all the Paris tete-a-tete between them that resulted in the NSAs’ meeting in Bangkok and Sushma Swaraj flying to Islamabad for the heart of Asia meeting on
Afghanistan and the Indian Prime Minister’s eventual stopover in Lahore.
Another conversation between Modi and Sharif may help to get the comprehensive dialogue moving. The two foreign secretaries were to meet in Islamabad to formalise the arrangements but had been left hanging because of the terror attack in Pathankot on 2 January.
Build stakeholders for peace
However many are wondering whether these high level meetings between Modi and Sharif add up to anything, considering that terror attacks inevitably follow such peace moves. No one has an answer to this.
Certainly not Modi by the looks of it. But as all prime ministers know, it is better to talk and keep engaging with Pakistan rather than block it out and pretend it does not exist.
While it is imperative to keep the communication lines open, it is as important to build stakeholders for peace. It is important for Prime Minister Modi to push Pakistan for opening up the trade links between the two countries.
Despite repeated promises Pakistan has so far not acted on removing tariff barriers to make it worthwhile for people to engage in profitable trade between themselves. Much of the trade is done through third countries, which leads to higher prices and unnecessary waste. Sharif himself is keen on encouraging trade and spoken of it with much enthusiasm in the past. But the army has poured cold water on his plans.
It is perhaps time that within the ambit of the comprehensive talks, which includes trade and commerce, the focus should be much more on business. After all, Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and other issues have been talked about for years within the composite dialogue, but has achieved very little. While comprehensive talks can be taken up, the
focus should be trade and commerce, and people to people relations which can give the much needed impetus to peace building. Both countries should be generous in issuing visas and encouraging exchanges. The constituency for peace on both sides needs to expand and this can be done only when travel is made easier.