Modi’s sojourn in Lahore


Looking forward to friendly relations


The historic 150-minute stopover of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Lahore, the ‘heart of Pakistan’, took everyone by surprise and trounced the hawks and naysayers on both sides of the borders when he landed in Lahore to wish 66th birthday to his counterpart. On the last leg of a long tour, PM Modi called PM Sharif earlier in the day asking him if he could stop over in Pakistan on his way back home. ‘Please come, you are our guest. Please come and have tea with me’, said the hospitable host from Lahore. PM Modi was coming from Afghanistan where he inaugurated the new Afghan Parliament building built by India. And before Afghanistan, he was in Russia where he signed 16 agreements across diverse sectors. This is the first visit, if we can call it so, by any Indian premier in the last decade.

Modi wished Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and made his plan of dropping by in Lahore public only through Twitter and left everyone flabbergasted by his #Tweeplomacy.

Nawaz Sharif, who was busy in the weekend for his granddaughter Mehrun Nisa’s wedding at his Jati Umra residence, had the event graced by PM Modi’s presence. Sharif’s family welcomed the visiting Prime Minister.

The Nawaz-Modi bonhomie reached the next level on the Christmas evening and the media on both sides of the border was left awe-struck. Special transmission arrangements of the Pakistani media celebrating the birthday of its founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah were eclipsed by the unexpected sojourn.

Although after a Nawaz-Modi tête-à-tête, National Security Advisors’ meeting and Sushma Swaraj’s recent visit to Islamabad, everyone could see that the relations were moving towards the right direction, yet it was Mr Modi’s sudden birthday diplomacy that put it on a fast-track mode.

As there always is, there was no shortage of spoilers and naysayers this time too.

Granted all the handshakes, hugs, gift exchanges and the healthy optics projected by the media, there is a suspicion visible in the analyses on both sides.

More than the Pakistani naysayers who are just consumed by the presence of the steel magnate Sajjan Jindal at the occasion with their egos hurt by obliging Modi’s sudden plan of sojourn in the land of the pure, the vociferous reservations (so to say) of the Indian opposition party Congress have absolutely disappointed the aspirants of peaceful relations.

“It is unfortunate that we get to know about prime minister’s visit through a tweet. India-Pakistan relations are not so good as yet that he stops over there on his way back from another country,” said Congress spokesperson Ajoy Kumar and another Congress leader called it an “adventure” on part of Modi and that the meeting was “pre-planned”.

And from Pakistan’s side, analysts, punching beyond their weight, have been clamouring with ‘not due importance being meted out to Pakistan’ and calling the trip pointless. Well, a breakthrough was never expected in the first place, to be fair. And any step in the direction should be welcome.

If anything, hawkish voices from both Pakistan and India post Nawaz-Modi meeting has shown that if you feed it to the media, they ruin it for you. It is the last minute plan that does the trick. If the media and powerful anti-peace lobbies were fed the news of any meeting beforehand, riding the horse of patriotism they would have ruined it all with their obsession with reading between the lines. And the statement after the meeting that ‘the two leaders decided to take forward the dialogue process and that it was agreed that foreign secretaries will meet in Islamabad next month’ by Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chowdhury could have never seen the light of the day. For the right reasons, proponents of backchannel diplomacy stress that the private drawing rooms make the best conference rooms.

People-to-people relations (track III diplomacy), as Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri stresses in his book “Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove”, is essential for a lasting thaw in Pak-India relations. And for this to happen, our ego wrapped in jingoism can take a back seat for a while and the policy of give-and-take through dialogue should guide us. Sadly, some distorted version of nationalism sold by hawks on television comes in the way of trade and warm-up of bilateral relations every time. This explains the need for a conduit for secret meetings and a rendezvous. The bold move by Modi, stopping by in Lahore, provided a perfect ending to his Russia-Afghanistan-Pakistan tour. Jitters are already being felt. We can hope this bonhomie doesn’t end here and meaningful interactions in future get going.