By Mehr Tarar
December 30, 2015
The Indian PM's visit to Sharif's residence to congratulate the family on the latter's granddaughter's wedding added a very human touch to a political interaction.
As 2015 winds down its breakneck gallop, in this pretence of a hardly-cold December, amidst noise of weddings and celebrations, it is that time of the year again when self-analyses rise out of their slumber, and stock-taking becomes agenda of the day. Man plans and time keeps its relentless motion, in a quiet disdain for those who think there would always be time to act, amend and alter the course. If only that was as simple as it sounds.
In the context of the relationship between Pakistan and India, much has happened in this over-in-a-jiffy year, and just as the naysayers were in a titter-mode, marking 2015 as another year of failed attempts to establish a working equation between the two countries, there was the Modi visit to Lahore. The mother of all unexpected visits, the brief but very warm visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to wish Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday has been heralded as the just-what-was-needed-to-break-the ice masterstroke. Full marks to Modi for keeping his detractors, supporters, and media all guessing while he travels from one country to another faster than anyone could say Namaste Lahore!
The hardline stance taken by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-run India regarding Pakistan was not much of a surprise. Modi's invitation to all heads of states of the SAARC to attend his swearing-in in 2014 underscored his vision of improved relations with all neigbouring countries, Pakistan being the most complex of the lot. There has been a constant barrage of accusations and counter-accusations of ceasefire violations, cross-border shelling, and acts of terrorism, and despite feeble attempts to keep the option of dialogue open, much importance has been given to long, cold silences, threats of armed retaliation and ultimatums of refusal to move forward unless the issue of terror is addressed. Amidst all this chest-thumping, war-mongering, and sensationalism of facts and lies by media, the pragmatism of the only workable short and long-term solution was treated as shabbily as that sweet uncle who has no money to buy expensive Christmas gifts for his army of nieces and nephews.
The August debacle of the July UFA agreement showed the redundancy of verbal and written pacts in the absence of that fundamental aspect of governmental interactions: trust. Pakistan announced that there is no point talking without the inclusion of that seven-lettered word - Kashmir -- that has bloodied all narratives between Pakistan and India, and India refused to budge on its demand to keep the Kashmir Hurriyat leaders out of what the former refers to as a bilateral issue. As sulks replaced words, media kept harping on how bad and stubborn the other side was, political leaders added many inflammatory statements, peace-seekers persisted with their aman-ki-ashas, and the rest as they say was no change in the icy status quo.
And then Paris happened! The beautiful city that has acted as the backdrop to many a love story saw Sharif and Modi huddled in a cosy chat. While media on both sides kept adding its own versions to what-were-they-talking-about, there came the second surprise: the National Security Advisors meeting in Bangkok. Yep, media was kept out of the loop again. Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's presence at the Heart of Asia summit in Islamabad emphasised the importance of building bridges between neighbours, highlighting the long-term benefits of peace in Afghanistan, and working on shared economic interests. After the successful signing of the TAPI, the dream of having a South Asian Free Trade Area is not an impossible one, keeping in view the staggering statistics of day-to-day hardships faced by millions in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan. Our shared issues must overwhelm our history of grievances, mistrust and fear, as the positivity of common goals unite disparate ideologies and agendas, paving way for a future that is beneficial to all.
Christmas day in Pakistan has another very special significance, as it is the birth anniversary of its founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. December 25 is also Pakistani premier Sharif's birthday, and en route from his brief visit to Kabul, Modi decided to wish Sharif in person. As media, hardline experts/analysts, naysayers and jingoistic elements watched, visibly flummoxed, some clearly upset, there was a sense of positive delight for all those who wish to see Pakistan and India as peaceful neighbours, even if not bosom buddies. Modi's visit to Sharif's residence to congratulate the family on the latter's granddaughter's wedding added a very human touch to a political interaction. The visit was important to initiate a process of sustained dialogue to address all outstanding issues: Kashmir, water disputes, ceasefire violations, and terror.
The brotherly hug and hand-holding of Sharif and Modi may be tokenism to the cynics, but to peace-seekers like me it simply states the following: we are leaders of two sovereign states, and respecting one another we are ready to talk and resolve all issues.
Happy New Year!
Mehr Tarar is a columnist based in Lahore
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