the generals, the symbolism of the visit — the Pakistan prime minister taking part at the “tajposhi” of someone they consider the antithesis of their understanding of the history of the Indian subcontinent and their vision for Pakistan’s place in it — would have been devastating. This is not conjecture on my part. Consider this: two years ago, at a track two India-Pakistan event, when I stressed that Pakistan must hand over Indian criminals who live there, a retired general, who has held several important positions in the Pakistan army, told me that Pakistan would do so if India handed over Narendra Modi because for them he was guilty of the massacre of Muslims.
The Herat attack was meant to spoil Modi’s “party” and make it virtually impossible for Sharif to travel to India. It was also designed to send an unequivocal message to India that the reins of Pakistan’s India policy are ultimately in the army’s hands and the cultivation of Sharif would only be cosmetic. Even if the attack failed in achieving its first objective thanks to the efforts of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police guards and the Afghan security forces, its basic message to Indian policymakers is loud and clear.
Naturally, the Indian reaction to the attack was muted. It could not have been otherwise as the country’s attention was focused on the decisive changes post election. However, Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj both made the government’s stand on the issue of state-sponsored terrorism known to Pakistan. Notwithstanding the decision for the foreign secretaries of both countries to establish contact on the future of the dialogue, Modi will have to decide when the next challenge comes, as it surely will, if dialogue and terrorism can go together or not. It would be unwise to swing between these two positions as the UPA did through its term. Other calm and sober but effective options would have to be considered, and are available, even as the logic of cooperative India-Pakistan relations is obvious.
It is true that state structures do not remain constant in any country and India must be nimble in evaluating changes in Pakistan. The army is under pressure, Sharif is politically strong, sections of the media are willing to take on the ISI, and the TTP challenge is immense (as shown by the attack on the Karachi airport). But the dominant decision-maker on India is the army, and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
The writer is a former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan
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