Speed, Secrecy and Sensitivity. In the dying embers of an eventful year of action-packed diplomacy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has staged a spectacular diplomatic blockbuster, kindling a new fire in perennially cold India-Pakistan relations and birthing a new template and vocabulary for this crucial relationship. The triple-S mantra was the net takeaway from PM Modi’s much-dissected surprise trip to Lahore on a Christmas day (a time of renewal and togetherness) to meet birthday boy Nawaz Sharif, and to usher in a new period of hope in the tortured and tortuous saga of India-Pakistan relations.
Surprise & Shock: Deconstructing Cliches
Surprise is a mild expression to describe the unscheduled, undisclosed last-minute trip by Prime Minister Modi to Lahore on December 25. Shock would have been more apposite, but in the end it was a pleasant shock, busting diligently nurtured clichés and constructs that have coloured the narrative of India-Pakistan relations all these years. Imagine an India-Pakistan leaders’ meeting sans hype, posturing and compulsive duelling between the so-called hawks and doves! Imagine such a meeting ending with only smiles, handshakes and small talk, sans any joint statement, but with a joint resolve to keep engaging!. Imagine nearly universal praise on both sides of the border for such an out-of-the-box initiative! Imagine an India-Pakistan meeting, without semiliterate sound-byte obsessed TV reporters frenziedly speculating about all the trivia their feverish minds can conjure up!
New Normal Future
Well, the Lahore meeting has subverted all the usual panoply and gimmickry that goes with India-Pakistan talks and promises to set up a new normal template for this troubled accident-prone relationship. And this new normal template is that leaders of India and Pakistan should meet more often, talk more often (even if it means small talk), open up their hearts and minds a little bit more to understand each other’s sensitivities, listen more to their people, rather than dogmatic advisers, and incrementally build up necessary trust and personal chemistry that will enable them to resolve the most difficult issues with sincerity, without scoring brownie points.
Visits: Guess, who is coming for chai?
Above all, PM Modi’s three-hour sojourn in Lahore demystifies the elaborate myth-making about “visits.” The visits by leaders to a neighbouring country need not be about grand outcomes or grand strategy; it could be simply about touching the base, partaking in each other’s joys and sorrows and exchanging notes. In this respect, the first 18 months of the Modi government have shown the way, with the diplomatic masterstroke of PM Modi inviting all the leaders of SAARC countries for his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014. It was followed by visits by him to all neighbouring countries, except the Maldives (which should happen next year). It was a bit jarring to hear that an Indian prime minister was paying a bilateral visit to Nepal after a gap of 17 years and Sri Lanka, after a hiatus of 28 years. And now, Mr Modi has become the first Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan after Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2004 to attend the SAARC summit. This glaring diplomacy deficit by the Indian leadership in the neighburhoood is shocking, to say the least, and reflects a lack of imagination and ambition in shaping a narrative of linked destinies in the region.
Hopefully, Modi’s Lahore visit is not a flash in the pan, an impulsive inspirational move that will come smashing against the hard rocks of realpolitik. In a speech 10 days ago, Mr Modi had hinted at his ambition to turn the course of history by engaging Pakistan “to bring an end to terrorism, build peaceful relations, advance cooperation and promote stability and prosperity in our region.” His Lahore sojourn, along with the 160-second meeting in Paris, followed by NSAs talks in Bangkok and the resumption of dialogue during External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad, is part of that carefully scripted plan.
Not Talking/Not Acting
Speed, Secrecy (surprise) and Sensitivity hold the master key to sustaining this high-stakes process of re-engaging Pakistan on the basis of this new template. The way ahead is littered with booby traps and landmines – those who do not want India and Pakistan to be nice to each other will be itching to play the spoiler – but the strength of this new template will lie precisely in ensuring that these forces do not succeed. And the way to do it to keep talking, and if the going gets really tough, just fly across, talk over tea and figure the way out. The Not-Talking is no longer the option, but Not Acting is also not an option in the long run! “That’s like a statesman. Padosi se aise hi rishte hone chahiyen (This is how it should be with neighbours),”as Sushma Swaraj said in a pithy one-liner. Expect surprises to cease surprising you in 2016! Welcome to the new normal future of India-Pakistan relations!
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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