LINE OF NO CONTROL
Tactical support from China, Russia and a new army chief mean Pakistan will remain a troublesome neighbour for India
THOUGH 2016 HAS BEEN a geopolitical annus horribilis all round, it is easy to forget that it was not supposed to be so. “Ab to yahaan aana jaana laga rahega (Now there will be much coming and going),” remarked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, during his 2015 Christmas Day visit to Lahore. “Aap ka ghar hai (This is your house),” replied Sharif, perhaps channelling the heady optimism of another celebrated meeting in that city 16 years beforehand. There was indeed much aana jaana over the year. Unfortunately, most of it was carried on by jihadists and special forces, resulting in the worst period for India-Pakistan relations since the Mumbai attacks of 2008. How did we arrive at this point?
A week after Modi’s triumphal visit, as the New Year dawned, normal service was resumed. Early on January 2, six heavily armed terrorists breached the Pathankot air force station in Punjab and killed seven members of the security forces. That, however, was far from the end of the story. Never in living memory have India and Pakistan handled such an attack, obviously of Pakistani provenance, with such maturity, calm and pragmatism. The two national security advisors, spy and soldier, spoke to each other within hours of the attack and met in Paris. The Indian government allowed a five-member Pakistani team to visit the air base itself in March.
Pakistan had been handed a golden opportunity, by the most hawkish Indian government in over a decade, to break the familiar cycle of atrocity, denial, obfuscation and misdirection that has bedevilled the relationship. Tragically, this opportunity was spurned. The hapless Sharif, sincere in his efforts to throw India a bone, was
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