India and Pakistan must work towards peace despite spoilers on both sides of the divide

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore to meet Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif last month a sign on what is possible

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 January, 2016, 12:37am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 January, 2016, 12:37am

Better relations between arch-enemies India and Pakistan would not only benefit both countries, but boost the economy, security and stability of South Asia. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi surely had that in mind when on December 26, on his way back from a trip to Afghanistan, he made a surprise stopover in Lahore for tea with Pakistani President Nawaz Sharif. Not for almost 12 years had an Indian leader set foot on Pakistani soil, so even though the meeting was brief, it was hugely symbolic. A terrorist attack days later on India’s Pathankot air force base, just 35km from the border, therefore cannot be allowed to derail the progress made.

Circumstances of the raid that left at least a dozen dead, among them six militants, remain sketchy. The base is on the main road between Kashmir and Indian Punjab and a Kashmiri group opposed to Indian rule in the region, the United Jihad Council, has claimed responsibility. But there are any number of people who reject better ties between India and Pakistan for political, strategic or religious reasons. This is why that most times when there is an attempt by either side to reach out, extremists try to sabotage the process.

That happened in 1999 after then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee went to Lahore by bus; cross-border firing by soldiers shortly after led to the Kargil war. An assault on the Indian parliament by Pakistan-based militants two years later froze relations and the Mumbai terror attack in 2008 put paid to negotiations on a military line of control between Jammu and Kashmir. The latest raid is an embarrassment for Modi, revealing major flaws in Indian intelligence and security. Opponents claim it is further proof that Pakistan cannot be trusted and peace efforts have to be called off.

The restraint shown by Modi and Sharif has to be maintained. Dialogue, on as many levels as possible, has to continue. To do otherwise sends the wrong signal to rivals and forces opposed to peace on both sides of the border.