Voices of Sanity in India and Pakistan After Pathankot Attack

The attack on Indian air base and its consulate in northern Afghanistan have a clear message -- to derail New Delhi’s normalization process with Pakistan. But thankfully unlike in the past, the two sides, especially India, are so far playing it cool. And the media in the two countries is also advising caution and continued engagement.

Posted on 01/4/16
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif during his stopover in Lahore on March 25.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif during his stopover in Lahore on March 25.
Despite strong media reaction in India over the terrorist attack on one of its largest air force bases near its border with Pakistan by unidentified gunmen, large newspapers are advising New Delhi and Islamabad to show restraint and caution and not to jump to conclusions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif had agreed during the former’s  dramatic stopover in the Pakistani city of Lahore on December 25 to restart the stalled dialogue process. Foreign Secretaries of the two countries are to meet on January 15 to finalize the talks agenda. But the attack on India Air Force base at Pathankot have put a big question mark on future of the talks. Even though a Kashmiri group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the Indian government is yet to officially identify the perpetrators. Media reports in India and Pakistan suggest that the two governments are in contact and that Pakistan is working on the “leads” provided by New Delhi related to the attack.


Nawaz-Modi Call: India Urges Pakistan to Act After Pathankot Airbase Attack


The incident coincided with another coordinated attack on the Indian consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. These attacks have a clear message — to derail the normalization process between the two South Asian rivals. But thankfully unlike in the past, the two sides, especially India, are so far playing it cool. And the media in the two countries is also largely advising caution and continued engagement to the two sides. Here are two editorial published in Indian daily The Hindu and Pakistani daily Dawn which reflect the sanity which is so far prevailing on both sides.


Stay the course after Pathankot

Attack on Pathankot air force base


Dawn, Pakistan

While Pakistan-India ties are necessarily about a great deal more than terrorism, the latter is perhaps the one threat that can derail the relationship yet again. It is too early to know the facts about what transpired at an Indian air force base in Pathankot but already some challenges — and opportunities for broadening and deepening anti-terrorism efforts — can be identified.

Firstly, the Pakistani government has done the right thing in quickly and unequivocally condemning the terror attack and offering its cooperation to India. Having suffered grievously from militant violence and having resolved to fight militancy in all its forms, Pakistan should rightly offer its support to any state confronting terror threats. It is a welcome change that Pakistan now officially and directly condemns terrorist attacks regionally and internationally and offers its assistance where necessary. The years of ambivalence appear to have been left behind. Yet, the challenges are formidable.

The hostile reaction by much of the Indian media to the alleged involvement of Pakistanis in the attack even before the barest facts could be established underlines just how difficult peacemaking will be. Courageously, however, the Indian government has appeared to resist media and hawkish pressure and declined to go into attack mode against Pakistan. It is all too easy to reap political capital in the midst of a major terrorist attack by targeting perceived external enemies.

The preferable approach — one that hopefully the Indian government will continue to adopt in the days ahead — would be to quickly establish the facts. If no involvement of Pakistani nationals is found, the information should be shared with the Indian public. If Pakistani nationals are found to be involved in the attack, the information should be shared with Pakistani authorities as quickly as possible — and reciprocal steps should be taken here. To thwart the political motives of terrorists, a sensible, cooperative approach by both governments should be key.

Inside Pakistan, there needs to be some reflection. Has Pakistan’s inability to deal adequately with India’s concerns about the 2008 Mumbai attacks caused cynicism about Pakistani intentions and led to Indians being automatically suspicious of Pakistan whenever a terrorist attack occurs in their country? If so, does that not harm Pakistan’s own interests? There is still too much defensiveness about the terrorism threat on the Pakistani side — perhaps less so in the political government, but certainly in the military-led security establishment. There is no conceivable gain that Pakistan can make through terrorism when it comes to key disputes and issues with India.

Not only is that abundantly clear outside the state apparatus, a generation of senior officials, both military and civilian, have publicly and privately acknowledged and accepted that. If that is indeed the case, then Pakistan ought to lead confidently on the regional terrorist threat. No one — at least no one credible — can accuse the Pakistani state of not wanting to or failing to fight the banned TTP today. The day must come when the same can be said for all terror threats, internally, regionally and internationally. This editorial was published in Dawn on January 4, 2016.


The Hindu, India

Within the short space of a month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have gone through the entire cycle of India-Pakistan ties, as they have played for the past two decades ever since the two countries agreed to a composite, structured dialogue between them. There has been talks about talks, talks about terror, a brief moment of euphoria with gestures of renewing ties from the leaders, followed by an attack. While Mr. Modi’s Lahore landing was certainly bold, it has not yet proven to be the game-changer that perhaps he too hoped it would be. Instead, the same kind of terrorist attack that has always accompanied India-Pakistan engagement hit Pathankot in the early hours of Saturday. As with similar attacks in the past, it should not surprise anyone if the terrorists came from Pakistan, and belonged to an anti-India group the Pakistani army has neatly sidestepped in its otherwise fairly successful crackdown on terrorists in the past year. Frustrated by their inability to hurt India, the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and others have tried to retain their relevance by instead targeting the India-Pakistan dialogue process time and again. By not calling off talks immediately after the attack, the Modi government seems to have indicated it will not allow these groups the satisfaction of achieving those aims. A sustained dialogue is the only fitting answer to terrorist groups and to their handlers inside the Pakistan establishment who wish to destabilise the peace process. In fact, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told Parliament last month that India would not “be provoked by saboteurs who want to stop the dialogue process in one way or another”.

Going forward, the talks process must be further insulated from the ‘veto’ of these forces. First, the foreign secretaries must move quickly to set up a timetable of meetings of all the secretaries in the two countries involved in the comprehensive dialogue. The process will receive momentum if India and Pakistan agree to a resolution on what are often called the “low-hanging fruit” of issues such as visas, confidence building measures on the Line of Control, water issues and the Sir Creek dispute. The more issues they are able to agree on, the greater their chances of addressing the single largest issue that holds back ties today, that of terrorism. On this, it is for Pakistan to show its good intentions, by acting against the JeM and LeT, both in court and on the ground in Punjab where they run extensive militias. India must stay the course it has set in the past month, including during the National Security Adviser talks, where it has delivered its message firmly, but quietly, with no hint of the one-upmanship that can hamper engagement. These actions will pave the road that was opened by the two Prime Ministers on Christmas day, allowing them to slice through the proverbial Gordian knot on India-Pakistan ties, rather than having to disentangle the ends that constantly threaten to strangle peace in the subcontinent.

This editorial was published in The Hindu on January 4, 2016

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