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India-Pakistan Peace Process after Pathankot

Monday, 18 January 2016 19:24
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by Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra (EPOS)
EPOS Insights



The hopes of revival of India-Pakistan peace talks received a set back after the Pathankot incident in the first week of January 2016. The hopes were generated after the Christmas 2015 visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi visited Lahore to wish his Pakistani counterpart Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and his grand daughter on her marriage. Modi’s visit generated hopes and the peace constituency in India and Pakistan hoped that the peace process stalled for about a decade would revive. The two leaders agreed to revive the composite dialogue process between the two countries, and in this direction both the countries agreed to hold foreign secretary level talk on 15 January 2016.

The Pathankot incident belied the hopes, and in turn weakened the constituency of peace and strengthened the constituency of spoilers. It was like the graph of faith that had witnessed a sudden rise after the Modi visit had touched base after the attack. Modi was the first Prime Minister of India to visit Pakistan after 11 years, risking his popularity at home. Prime Minister Sharif reciprocated Modi’s gesture, and both leaders had developed a personal chemistry suitable for the peace process. Sharif was the first Pakistani Prime Minister to attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in May 2014. Despite set backs, both the leaders continued meeting at Ufa, Kathmandu and Paris. The Pathankot emerged a challenge to the increasing bonhomie between the two leaders.

Pathankot happened after one week of Modi’s visit to Lahore. Six terrorists crossed India-Pakistan border in Punjab and attacked an Indian air force base, and killed seven security personnel before being killed. United Jehadi Council, an India-centric militant umbrella group based in Pakistan, claimed the attack. The attack raised doubts about the prospects of the peace talks. The terrorists failed to exact heavy damage as they failed to target families residing in the base. They also failed to destroy air force assets. The attack otherwise could have triggered a larger confrontation between the two nuclear weapon states.

India and Pakistan handled the Pathankot incident maturely. India restrained from targeting Pakistan as the sponsor of the attack as earlier. Earlier India was directly accusing Pakistan for such attacks. India, however, demanded action from Pakistan. The terrorists reportedly belonged to Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group, based in Bahabalpur area of Punjab province of Pakistan, ruled by Sharif’s political party. Sharif called Modi and expressed concerns about the attack and promised actions against the culprits on the basis of evidence. This was the first time that a Pakistani leader called his Indian counterpart and promised action. Sharif formed a special team to investigate the attack. Indian leaders were apprehensive whether Pakistan would take action against the culprits. They remembered 2008 Mumbai attack, in which Pakistani action was not as effective as India wanted.

The peace lovers argued that both the rivals should rise above distrust and collectively challenge the spoilers by engaging in a sustainable peace process. Despite the caution that both the countries should not succumb to the pressures of the spoilers, the peace process received a set back. The scheduled secretary level talk has been postponed, and it is reported that it may be delayed by some weeks. India has demanded that unless Pakistan takes action against the culprits of the attack, it would not engage in dialogue. Pakistan’s position has been it would take action on the basis of evidence.

Any peace move between India and Pakistan is often challenged by the spoilers. The bus ride by the Indian Prime Minister, A. B. Vajpayee in 1999 was followed by Kargil intrusion just after a few months. In fact when Vajpayee was handshaking Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan then and now, Pakistani army was planning the intrusion. Similarly, the Agra talk in 2001 was followed by an attack on Indian parliament. When the peace process was at a peak, and the Line of Control in Kashmir was made flexible for travel of people and goods, the 2008 Mumbai attack happened.

The spoilers gain from conflict. For them conflict should continue unhindered, and a peace initiative challenges status quo. India and Pakistan need to decide how to address these spoilers – the hard line elements in both countries and Pakistan based India centric militant outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba. They need to act against these elements while addressing contentious issues. Similarly, India needs to develop a strong mechanism against terrorist attacks from across the border. Pathankot could have been avoided had there been a robust border defense mechanism in place.

Conflict atmosphere does not suit India and Pakistan as it is not favorable for peace and economic development. It suits only the spoilers, who are friends of neither India nor Pakistan. Perhaps it is time that the two countries develop a joint mechanism to address the spoilers. The first step in this direction must be to shed decades-old mistrust.


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s vision

Last modified on Friday, 22 January 2016 19:46
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