|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
The surprise sprung by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his hitherto unannounced visit to Lahore was received with shock an awe at home — first reports coming in that Modi will be hosted by Nawaz Sharif to a birthday lunch at Lahore airport, to that he will be going to Raiwand to Meet Nawaz's mother, to Modi will attend wedding of Nawaz's granddaughter. But it was a well kept secret and a remarkable diplomatic move that could lead to betterment of India-Pakistan relations, given the warm hug with which Nawaz greeted Modi at Lahore airport. The spur of the moment part needs to be seen in backdrop of their earlier meeting in Paris where Nawaz's body language indicated he was weighed down heavily; ostensibly by his own uncontrollable army that controls Pakistan's foreign policy and insists upon continuing with a state policy of terror. Though Modi has been invited to attend the SAARC summit in Pakistan next year, possibly the two leaders had decided this move between them when they met in Paris.
It is no secret that at the political level, Pakistan wants to improve connectivity, trade and economic relations with India, which would benefit both countries as well as the whole region. However, the Pakistani military has been stonewalling such move all along. The friction between PM Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief Raheel Sharif has been commented upon by the Pakistani media including when the army chief forced his own appointee as the NSA just before Sharif's last visit to USA.
This particular Modi Nawaz meet has special significance since it happened in immediate aftermath of President Putin and PM Modi denouncing terrorism and showing solidarity for measures against it, followed by PM Modi and President Ashraf Ghani similarly condemning terrorism and PM Modi stating categorically that peace cannot come to Afghanistan till cross-border terrorism stops — obvious reference to Pakistan's proxy war. As significantly, India for the first time gifted four attack helicopters (Mi-35s) to Afghanistan, which are obviously meant for use against Pakistan supported proxies and also against Pakistani regulars operating inside Afghanistan covertly. The fact that these attack helicopters were financed by India but supplied by Russia should indicate to the Pakistani military the resoluteness of the Indo-Russian 'privileged' strategic partnership in supporting Afghanistan in countering terrorism. Should the Pakistani military continue to stoke the fires, they should not discount Russian cruise missile strikes on their carefully nurtured terror sanctuaries, going by the Russia fireworks ISIS is receiving in West Asia. But that apart, the sudden Modi-Nawaz undercut the media hoopla that a meeting announced in advance generates. Little wonder that some of the opposition in India is hopping mad, having lost opportunity to make brownie points. That the Hurriyat who were recently again being entertained by an obdurate Abdul Basit New Delhi too are completely sidelined — not that they have any relevance other than being propped up by paid media.
It is also remarkable coincidence that the Modi-Nawaz meet happened on former PM Vajpayee's birthday, after Modi inaugurated the Indian built new Parliament building in Afghanistan replete with a block named 'Atal', and the fact that Vajpayee had taken the famous bus journey to Lahore with an extended hand of friendship. Musharraf had sabotaged the latter move. Hopefully the public mood in Pakistan and the Modi-Nawaz equation would prevail upon army chief Raheel Sharif not to follow footsteps of Musharraf, taking the country down the vortex of terror. By visiting Pakistan immediately after Kabul, Modi has firmly conveyed to the Pakistani public as a clear-headed statesman that he bears no ill will towards Pakistan. The Indo-Pak talks have been broken and resumed umpteen times. In India, it is widely acknowledged that if PM Modi can't break the impasse and resolve the difference, there doesn't appear an alternative on the horizon. It is for the same reason that PM Modi has been mooting for SAARC wide connectivity and economic cooperation. British historian Arnold Toynbee once said, "It is already becoming clear that a chapter which has a western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race ...... At this supremely dangerous moment in hiStory the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way." News has come in that Foreign Secretary's of both countries will meet in Islamabad mid January. The bottom-line is that this Modi-Nawaz meeting signals a moment in hiStory. Should the Pakistani Military shun terror, it can usher in peace, prosperity and friendship in the region.