Prime Minister Modi’s unexpected stopover in Lahore to greet the Pakistan premier Nawaz Shariff on his birthday, while on his way back from Afghanistan on Friday is seen as a significant development in the relations between both the nations.
Even though the invitation to Shariff for the swearing in ceremony of Modi sparked hopes of bonhomie between both the nations, the tensions along the border as well as at the diplomatic level strained the ties further plunging it back to the cold war phase. Most of the times, it gave rise to conflict-laden skepticisms. Last year, the foreign secretary level talks between India and Pakistan were cancelled the last moment due to the Pak envoy’s meeting with the Kashmiri separatist leaders. In August, the NSA-level talks involving the National Security Advisors of both nations was also called off. The Sangh Parivar and its fringe groups that steers the government, taking advantage of the stagnation, became more aggressive in their anti-Pak stance and banned the eminent Ghazal singers, artists and players from entering India. It became commonplace for the right-wing leaders and their parties to snap at those who doesn’t follow their Hindutwa ideologies to ‘leave for Pakistan’. It’s amidst this mess that Modi paid a surprise visit to Pakistan conveying birthday wishes to the Pak premier. He tweeted his decision to visit Shariff in Lahore on his way back from Russia after stopping over at Afghanistan to inaugurate the country’s new parliament building. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had visited Pakistan on December 8. The schedule for a Comprehensive Bilateral dialogue (CBD) between both the countries is being set by the foreign Secretaries on January 15 in Islamabad. The agenda also includes issues like Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek. The diplomatic sources on both sides reveal that attempts were being made to put the peace talks that have been on hold since the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, back on track. Modi’s ‘birthday diplomacy’ has thus received widespread welcome.
In 2007, Dr Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister had nostalgically spoken of his dream to have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul just like his ancestors used to have in good old times. He also reminded that it was a time when the national and political borders didn’t restrict the socio-economic ties in the modern world. Singh openly expressed the sentiments shared by the people of India as well as those in the neighbouring countries. The democratic humane forces remind this fact whenever the communal forces driven by fanaticism ignite hate. Modi accomplished the dream of ancestors when even those in the ruling party are engaged in hate propaganda. Many see his surprise visit to Pakistan as a ‘diplomatic dance’ as described by the New York Times. Congress claimed that the unexpected visit was not for promoting national interests but for promoting ‘private business interest’ pushed by industrialist Sajjan Jindal. Jindal who facilitated a meeting between Modi and Nawaz Sharif last year, allegedly has vested interests in pushing the peace agenda between both nations. The Jindal family has close ties with the family of the Pak premier since the time of the latter’s father. Their family business endeavors like the JSW Steel, JSPL and the Monnet Ispat and Energy collaborate with the state-owned Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) to run the joint venture Afghan Iron & Steel Consortium (AFISCO).
The iron ore mined in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan provice has to be transported to India via Karachi which is the cheapest route, for use by Indian steel mills. Also the traders who invested huge sums in gas-based power plants and fertilizer factories need Pakistan’s permission to take the cheap gas from Central Asia to India. The crude gas from Iran is also to be transported via this route. The Opposition has cited these interests of the business mafia behind Modi’s unscheduled visit. These allegations if comprehended properly would prove that the failure to maintain good relations between the neighbouring countries causes immense loss to the nations’ economy. It’s an undisputable fact that healthy ties with neighbouring countries strengthen the nation’s economy and sociality. Given that mediations in foreign diplomacy is not new, any effort to improve the ties with the neighbour and the situation along the border should be appreciated. Steps should also be taken to ensure that the diplomatic goals should be aimed at the welfare of the people belonging to both the nations and not just of their kin.