WEB DESK: Its been a fortnight of fortitude. India and Pakistan are back to talking. Few weeks ago, no one could have conjured up this sharp turnaround from recent hostile environment. Positively surprised, folks are now hoping that this time will be different, that breakthroughs will result, no matter how small.
A powerful figure, it is Narendra Modi who moves the needle in this relationship. His counterpart Nawaz Sharifs courtship has remained constant. To his credit, even when all his peace overtures led to naught, Sharif thought better to not launch into diatribes. Unfortunately, he was met by Modi, who has a penchant for strong-arming. Modi didn allow formal diplomacy to properly function for much of his 18-month rule.
Now that both nations are back on the table, it will be useful to study what prompted this sudden shift in Modis approach. A mix of factors on domestic and international fronts seems connected to this change of heart.
One, Modis one-point dialogue agenda on terrorism had pushed him into a corner. Pakistan reacted to Indias September snub with an arguably sub-par “dossier diplomacy”. The US, the UN, and other world powers urged restraint. They perhaps appreciated the gravity of a likely scenario where Pakistan would be compelled to use its low-range tactical nuclear weapons against Indias loaded conventional army in case another Mumbai-style incident pushed the neighbours towards war.
Two, already facing foreign pressure to open talks with Pakistan, Modi faced local nuisances, too. Recent setbacks in state-level elections and clamour over growing Hindu extremism seemed to diminish his aura. Congress, a relic of its past self, suddenly found vigour. Many among Indias intelligentsia and artists showed concerns over a reducing space for expression under Modi. The globe-trotting PM received love from diaspora everywhere, but lines of protesting folks also increased wherever hed gone.
Three, perhaps it was felt in his circle that the perceived rising marginalization of Indian Muslims might be a ticking bomb for India. After the gruesome terrorism incidents in Paris and California, Indian government must be more vigilant about organized militancy and lone-wolf attacks. Trying to make amends with Pakistan somewhat helps in de-escalating nationalist frenzy and gives a soft message of engagement.
Put simply, Modis Pakistan strategy wasn going anywhere. So, he corrected his course. In return, he may fare well on multiple fronts. Modi has, to his credit, moved fast in recent weeks and Pakistan has obliged. But since much of the shift owes to a reaction to negative circumstances and events, one is unsure whether the positive mood will last till Modi visits Saarc summit in Islamabad in nine months.
Peace with India has wide support in Pakistan, even among the opposition parties. One hopes Sharif will have a strategy to steer things and utilize this window of opportunity. Leadership is about moving forward despite obstacles, a point very clearly driven home by PTI chief Imran Khan who was in India last week. Its all about forward movement from here on.