A recent attack on the air base of Pathankot is turning out to be a big test case for both the prime ministers of India and Pakistan. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a big initiative on December 25 last year by meeting his Pakistani counterpart in Lahore. They agreed to restart the peace process with some new initiatives. They also discussed possible threats for the peace process in the same meeting. They assured each other that the peace process would not be derailed in case of any attacks in India or Pakistan, and they would not blame each other without any evidence. Unfortunately, their apprehensions came true. Within a few days of that meeting in Lahore, there was an attack in Pathankot and the real test of the two prime ministers began. The Indian side blamed some Pakistanis for the attack but never blamed the Pakistani government. The Pakistani side did not only condemn the attack, but also termed it a conspiracy against the peace process. No rash statements were made, unlike the past.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told his Pakistani counterpart outright in the evening of January 5 over telephone that he wanted action against the mastermind of the Pathankot attack in the next few hours. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif explained that he was not in Pakistan but in Sri Lanka and could only take some concrete steps after going back to Islamabad. He praised the maturity shown by the Indian government for not blaming the Pakistani government over the Pathankot attack. The next day, the Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif chaired a Corp Commanders conference in Rawalpindi and reiterated zero tolerance for terrorist organizations. Nawaz Sharif returned to Islamabad in the evening of January 6, and the next day he asked all the concerned authorities to verify the information provided by the Indian side and take appropriate action. Credible sources in Lahore claimed that the Punjab police and some security agencies had started raids in southern parts of the province in light of information provided by the Indian side. The focus of the raids was the leadership of the banned outfit, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). A big announcement may come in the next few days, but only after the verification of the facts given to Pakistan by the Indian side.
There are several questions being raised in the Indian media about the attack in Pathankot. The Indian media is criticising Pakistan regularly, but thanks to the Indian Prime Minister, who requested his Pakistani counterpart in the Lahore meeting to not form policies according to the headlines of TV channels. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not concerned about the allegations of a “double game” levelled on his government by certain Indian TV channels. He probably thinks that the Indian Prime Minister could best deal with the Indian media. However, he looks committed to take action against all those who try to disrupt the peace process by using the Pakistani soil to destabilise a neighbouring country. Nawaz Sharif fully understands that it would be very difficult for the Indian government to start foreign secretaries’ level talks in mid-January, if no actions against the alleged mastermind of the Pathankot attack are taken. He has been warned by some supporters to not take actions blindly against those blamed by India for the Pathankot attack. He has clearly said that he would not take any action without verifying the facts, but if verified, then the culprits would not be treated as enemies of India but as enemies of Pakistan.
Sources close to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are expecting a breakthrough on the Pathankot issue within the next few days. This breakthrough may change the political climate in both the countries. This change in relations was initiated in Paris last year, and Modi's Lahore visit added a new colour to it. In this light, the Pathankot attack has actually left both the prime ministers embarrassed. Some critics in Pakistan think that Nawaz Sharif will not be able to satisfy India at any cost. If his government does arrest the perpetrators, then India will demand an immediate court trial, making it difficult for the Pakistani government to prove allegations in a court of law in a short span of time due to weaknesses in the legal system. It was suggested to Nawaz Sharif to try the culprits in the recently established military courts. He instructed concerned authorities to examine all the laws through which the culprits could be prosecuted as soon as possible. National Security Advisors (NSA) from both India and Pakistan have been in touch with each other over the last several weeks. They are exchanging valuable information without sharing it with the media. One must give credit to both advisors for establishing a level of confidence between Delhi and Islamabad. The four hour long meeting in Bangkok between the two advisors in Bangkok last month was the beginning of a new kind of diplomacy between the two countries. Surprisingly, they did not take old positions in the meeting and since then, and have decided to move forward in new directions with new ideas. That was why Modi praised Pakistani NSA Lt Gen Rtd Nasir Khan Janjua when he met Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, and Nawaz Sharif praised Ajit Doval when he met Sushma Swaraj in Islamabad.
Nawaz Sharif and Modi don't need any Sajjan Jindal (Chairman, Managing Director of JSW Steel) to arrange their meetings and telephone talks. They are successfully operating through their NSAs. The realistic approach of the two NSAs has provided space to both the prime ministers to take new steps and adopt new positions. Nawaz Sharif is treating the attack in Pathankot as a direct challenge for him. He is aware of the domestic consequences, but he is confident that all the opposition parties in Pakistan will stand behind him if evidence against the culprits is strong. The Pathankot attack is a tragedy for India; this tragedy can become 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 Sharif can ask Modi to help him by addressing the issue of Kashmir. If they can pass a difficult test like Pathankot successfully, then they can definitely go through more difficult tests like Kashmir. Resolving the Pathankot issue is just the beginning. Let the resolution of the Kashmir issue be the end.
The writer works for Geo Television in Pakistan.