Are things looking up between India and Pakistan? Is a new light of hope just about to pervade the subcontinent after many dark days of desperation, despair and cold distance? Looks like the sun is at last emerging from the clouds. There have been at least four high profile meetings between leaders of the two countries and it is being hoped that, very soon, more good news will hit the headlines.
The story until the meeting in Ufa, Russia, between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Narendar Modi, had been a dismal one. Things started to look up for the two major South Asian nations when Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif met in Paris on the sidelines of the Paris Climate summit, though only for a mere two minutes. It was an impromptu meeting on the face of it and by his account, the Pakistani National Security Advisor, Sartaj Aziz later said that he quickly moved to a distance, when he realized that the Indian and Pakistani leaders wished to have a few moments to themselves. It is not exactly known as to what transpired in the brief exchange between the two prime ministers but it is certain that the brush led to further doors of renewed ties opening. The Pakistani political leader Imran Khan’s trip to New Delhi also served to brighten the atmosphere. Among his other engagements, he was invited by PM Modi for a brief meet at the latter’s residence. The iceberg that had existed between India and Pakistan seemed to be further melting. The national security advisors of India and Pakistan, namely Ajit Doval and Lt. Gen. (R) Nasir Janjua met in Bangkok and were accompanied by the respective foreign secretaries of both countries. The details of their talks have not been divulged but this much is clear that the Bangkok junket too was an ice thawing mission.
The Bangkok episode encouraged both sides that things were going in the desired direction. The renewed good spirit drew the Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj to make a trip to Pakistan and receive the hospitality of the Pakistanis, particularly that of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family. When Ms. Swaraj returned to New Delhi, she had to face some unpleasant music in terms of tough questions put to her by Indian parliamentarians, even to the extent of the colour of saree she chose to wear one day while in Pakistan and why she spoke in Urdu? It needs to be remembered that Sushma Swaraj’s Pakistan visit had come about at just the time when the anti-Muslim (read anti-Pakistan) fever was at a high pitch in India and those Hindu extremists who find fault with everything Pakistani, had had good times, spiting prominent Pakistanis visiting India, from not letting ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali present his art to showing an unwelcoming attitude towards the Pakistan cricket board chairman Shaharyar Khan and from painting the face of a prominent Indian black just because he was hosting the launch of Mahmud Kasuri’s book to the targeting of Mahira Khan, a Pakistani actress appearing in an Indian film.
It was therefore quite a pleasant surprise when one afternoon in late December, the Lahoris found Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi visiting their city to attend the wedding of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter. An Indian prime minister had come to Pakistan after a long time. That the visit came about without much hype and hoopla is what further added to the surprise and it was obvious that the iceberg had by now disappeared. It was said that Modi came over merely to participate in the wedding celebrations and that there was nothing on the agenda in terms of a political tete-a-tete. That may have been the official line because a congratulatory phone call could also have been just appropriate instead of Mr. Modi flying over in person. Besides, what was Sajjan Jindal doing in Lahore on the same day? It is known that Jindal has special ties with Narendar Modi and has been funding the BJP. He found it convenient to visit Lahore simultaneously with Modi and establish links with Nawaz Sharif and his family. Jindal has global interests in steel, a subject also close to the hearts of Nawaz Sharif’s sons, who were present in Lahore for the wedding. Jindal is one of India’s richest individuals and his mother is said to be the world’s richest woman. All these factors must have combined to create an enabling environment for Nawaz and Modi to come closer and pick up the pieces from there. It is also being said that, on the lines of the quadrilateral talks that are being initiated between Pakistan, Afghanistan, the USA and China, to find a solution to the Taliban juggernaut, major global powers are also behind the India-Pakistan rapprochement.
Syed Jawaid Iqbal