Can Modi, Sharif usher new dawn?
When Dharmvati, the widow of Indian jawan Hemraj, who was beheaded by Pakistani soldiers at the Line of Control in January last year, condemns the invitation to Pak PM Nawaz Sharif to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, she sounds an important caveat which must be heeded to. While the bloodshed in Poonch cannot be undone and it would be difficult to keep Dharamvati’s demand to ‘bring back her husband’s head’, the political establishment on either side would do well to empathise with the widow’s cries even as it tiptoes towards writing a new chapter in Indo-Pak relations. Ever since prime minister-elect Modi sent the ball of diplomatic ties flying into Pakistan’s court, by requesting Sharif, along with other SAARC premiers, to attend today’s swearing-in ceremony, what would have been a domestic and routine political ritual has now turned into a global gala, attracting international attention. Moreover, the bilateral talks that will be held tomorrow, after Modi takes the oath of prime ministership this evening, have also cast spotlight on India’s foreign policy agenda. Reinjecting life into a dormant regional bloc in SAARC, Modi has deftly reconfigured a procedural observance into an instrument and metaphor of rebooted relations, especially redrawing the roadmap of the perennially tortured ties with Pakistan. While Modi has justly turned this into a template for future premiers to emulate, what needs to be taken into account is how the two prime ministers would battle domestic and international criticism and chart a fresh course in the choppy waters of bilateral relations. Since the invite had assent from the RSS, ‘BJP’s 10 Janpath’, it remains to be seen how the gesture is reciprocated in Pakistani corridors of power, particularly its military and espionage junta that still has the stronghold on Islamabad’s policies, both domestic and foreign. In addition, how the two PMs are able to curtail fundamentalist fringes in their respective countries after the talks, and whether there’s a definite thawing of relations which would translate into peace along the LoC, expansion of mutual trade and greater cultural exchange, also need to be keenly watched.
However, at present there’s silver lining and enough hope that the Modi-Sharif meet would herald better times for India and Pakistan. Thorny issues such as cooperation in 26/11 Mumbai attacks probe and ending the shadow war in Kashmir valley would certainly be touched upon, even though their resolution would require long-term and earnest deliberations. Although peace initiatives by former prime ministers from both the NDA and UPA regimes, such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Samjhauta Express and Manmohan Singh’s Aman Ki Asha, had had euphoric beginnings only to be buried under violence and instigations resulting in breach of ceasefire, terrorist attacks and blame-games on the part of the ruling regimes on either side of the border. But given Modi’s absolute mandate and his enormous clout in the current India political system, hectic parleys are likely to bring good news for both New Delhi and Islamabad. The recent attack on Indian consulate in Afghanistan’s Herat notwithstanding, perhaps it is time that trade overtakes tradition even as Dharmvati’s cries are solemnly heard.