The attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot is becoming a big test case for both the prime ministers of India and Pakistan. Indian PM Narendra Modi took a big initiative on December 25, 2015 by meeting his Pakistani counterpart in Lahore. They agreed to restart the peace process with some new initiatives. They also discussed possible threats to the peace process. They assured each other that the process would not be derailed in case of any attack in India or Pakistan and that they would not blame each other without evidence. Their apprehensions came true. Within a few days of the Lahore meeting, there was the Pathankot attack and a real test for the two PMs started. India blamed some Pakistanis for the attack, but never blamed the Pakistani government. Pakistan not only condemned the attack but also termed it a conspiracy against the peace process.
No rash statements, unlike in the past.
On the evening of January 5, Modi clearly told Nawaz Sharif over a phone call that he wanted action against the attack’s mastermind within the next few hours. Nawaz explained that he was not in Pakistan but in Sri Lanka — and that he could take concrete steps only after returning to Islamabad. He praised the maturity shown by the Indian government in not blaming the Pakistani government without evidence. The next day, Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, chaired a corps commanders conference in Rawalpindi and reiterated zero tolerance for terrorist organisations. Nawaz reached Islamabad on the evening of January 6 and, the following day, asked all concerned authorities to verify the information provided by the Indian side and take action. Credible sources in Lahore claimed that the Punjab (Pakistani) police and some security agencies had begun raids in the southern parts of the province in the light of the information provided by India. The focus of the raids was the leadership of the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). A big announcement may come in the next few days, but only after the verification of the information provided by India.
There are lots of questions being discussed in the Indian media about the Pathankot attack. The Indian media is criticising Pakistan every hour, but the Indian PM had warned his Pakistani counterpart in Lahore not to make policies according to TV headlines. Nawaz is not concerned about allegations of a “double game” levelled against his government by certain Indian TV channels. He thinks the Indian PM should take care of the Indian media and looks committed to taking action against those who tried to derail the peace process by using Pakistani soil to destabilise the neighbouring country.
Nawaz fully understands that it will be very difficult for the Indian government to begin the foreign secretary-level talks in mid-January, if there is no action against the mastermind of the Pathankot attack. He was warned by certain sympathisers not to blindly act against those blamed by India. The Pakistani PM made it clear that his government will not take any action without verifying the information. But if verified, the culprits will not be treated as enemies of India but as enemies of Pakistan.
Sources close to the PM are expecting a breakthrough on Pathankot within the next few days. This breakthrough may change the political climate in both countries. This “climate change” moment began in Paris last year and Modi’s Lahore visit added some new colours to it. But the Pathankot attack, indeed, embarrassed both PMs. Some critics in Pakistan think Nawaz cannot satisfy India at any cost. If his government arrests someone, India will demand a trial immediately. It will be difficult for Pakistan to prove the allegations in a court of law in a short span of time due to the weaknesses in Pakistan’s legal system. It was even suggested to Nawaz that the culprits be tried in the recently established military courts. The PM instructed the concerned authorities to examine all the laws by which the culprits could be prosecuted as soon as possible.
The national security advisors of India and Pakistan have been in touch for the last several weeks. They are exchanging valuable information, without sharing the same with the media. One must give credit to both of them for establishing a high level of confidence between New Delhi and Islamabad. Their four-hour-long meeting in Bangkok was the beginning of a new kind of diplomacy between the two countries. Surprisingly, they never took the old positions, deciding to move forward in new directions and with new ideas. That was why Modi praised Pakistani NSA Nasir Khan Janjua when he met Nawaz in Lahore. Nawaz, too, had praised Indian NSA Ajit Doval when he met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Islamabad.
Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi do not need any Sajjan Jindal to arrange their meetings and telephone conversations. They are successfully operating through their NSAs. The realistic approach of the two NSAs created the space for both PMs to take some new steps and adopt new positions. Nawaz is treating the Pathankot attack as a direct challenge for him. He is aware of the domestic consequences, but he is also confident that all Pakistani opposition parties will stand by him if the evidence against the alleged culprits is strong.
Pathankot is a tragedy for India. But this can be an opportunity for Pakistan to win the hearts and minds of the Indian public by taking some concrete steps in the right direction. After establishing credibility in India, Nawaz can ask Modi to help him by addressing the issue of Kashmir. If they pass a difficult test like Pathankot, they can certainly go through some more difficult tests, such as Kashmir. Pathankot is the beginning. Kashmir may be the end.