Terror taunt, peace stop

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new building of the Afghan parliament, constructed by India, in Kabul this morning.

By Mehmal Sarfraz
  • Published 26.12.15

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new building of the Afghan parliament, constructed by India, in Kabul this morning.

He made several allusions to Pakistan while addressing the Afghan parliament: "Afghanistan will succeed only when terrorism no longer flows across the border, when nurseries and sanctuaries of terrorism are shut and their patrons are no longer in business."

This remark was obviously directed at Pakistan. Who would have thought that hours later, Modi would be having tea in Lahore with his Pakistani counterpart?

That Modi is social media-savvy is no secret. This time too he used Twitter to make one of the most important policy decisions: "Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi."

His tweet created a media frenzy in both countries.

Anchor and lawyer Fawad Chaudhry said it was no secret that Sharif was keen on building relations with India.

When Modi came to power in 2014, he had invited Sharif to his oath-taking. Sharif accepted his invitation despite severe criticism from several quarters in Pakistan.

Chaudhry said Sharif had taken a huge political risk by accepting Modi's invitation. But in India, "he was 'welcomed' by a haughty press conference by (then) Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh", Chaudhry said.

Singh had told the media that Modi had broached cross-border terrorism with Sharif and sought a speedy trial in the 26/11 case. This, Chaudhry said, was a bad start for India-Pakistan relations under the Modi government.

Chaudhry believes that the recent developments in bilateral ties - from NSA-level talks to Sushma Swaraj's Islamabad trip and now Modi's surprise visit - owe to domestic as well as foreign pressure, especially from China and America.

There's a Punjabi saying: "Jinne Lahore nayi vaikheya, o jammeya nayi (Whoever hasn't seen Lahore hasn't been born)."

Modi landed in Lahore around 5pm and was received by Sharif and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif. From a warm hug to holding hands, both Prime Ministers seemed relaxed.

Coincidentally, it was Sharif's birthday. Modi was flown in a chopper to Sharif's home in Raiwind, Lahore.

Breakfast in Kabul, lunch (or high tea) in Lahore and dinner in Delhi - nobody expected this form of diplomacy from Modi but he has surprised his supporters and critics alike.

The last Indian Prime Minister to visit Pakistan was Atal Bihari Vajpayee in early 2004. Now, on Sharif's and Vajpayee's common birthday, Modi has become the fourth to do so.

Journalist-anchor Najam Sethi said Modi was under pressure on two fronts to change the script on Pakistan.

At home, the Bihar election defeat had shown that the Sangh's anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim narrative was yielding negative returns. Internationally, global powers were pressing for improved India-Pakistan ties as a precondition for stabilising Afghanistan through a common regional policy.

This point was stressed in every western capital Modi has visited since becoming Prime Minister. Sethi believes the Pakistani military is on board relating to a policy of reducing tensions with India so that it can concentrate on tackling terrorism at home and focus on Afghanistan issues.

Modi is considered a hawk but his peace gesture towards Pakistan, despite what the sceptics are claiming, is a positive development and will go a long way in normalising relations. This Christmas Day, two South Asian leaders have shown the sagacity to try and bring peace to the region.

Mehmal Sarfraz is a Pakistani journalist