Mehmal Sarfraz Column: Here's to new beginnings
PM Modi's Christmas visit to Pakistan has set a positive note for Indo-Pak relations in 2016
Relations between India and Pakistan are as unpredictable as it can get. One minute, the two countries are at each other's throats, and the next, we see the prime ministers of both nations holding hands. But the year 2015 certainly ended on a good note for Indo-Pak relations. A few months ago, most people could not have predicted the hand-holding part, but that is exactly what we saw just last week when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised everyone by making a brief stopover in Lahore. It heralded a new day, a new dawn for the two neighbours.
PM Narendra Modi shakes hands with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a surprise visit to Lahore on Christmas day. Pic/AFP
Back in November, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and PM Modi met on the sidelines of the 21st UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. A statement from PM Sharif's office said: “Both appeared in a friendly mood and the Indian PM left the meeting with a warm handshake with the Pakistani PM.”
This 'warm handshake' was followed by a meeting of the national security advisors of both countries, and a few days after, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Islamabad for the Heart of Asia Conference. Ms Swaraj was the first cabinet member of the Modi government to visit Pakistan. She announced the resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue, which is now being called the 'Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue'. The joint communiqué issued by Sartaj Aziz and Ms Swaraj said this new dialogue would discuss: “Peace and Security, Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, Economic and Commercial Cooperation, Counter-Terrorism, Narcotics Control, humanitarian issues, people to people exchanges and religious tourism.”
Everyone expected Ms Swaraj's visit to pave the way for PM Modi's expected visit to Pakistan for the next SAARC Summit in 2016. It took everyone by surprise, especially the media in both countries, when Mr Modi tweeted from Kabul last Friday that he would be making a brief trip to Lahore the same afternoon. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif personally went to the Lahore airport to receive his Indian counterpart. They left for PM Sharif's private residence in Lahore. Some called it a photo-op, with no substantial outcome. Others thought this gesture by the Indian premier will lead to a new beginning. Whatever the outcome, good or bad, one cannot deny the symbolism attached to this stopover. An Indian prime minister visiting Pakistan after more than a decade is of great importance in itself, but for a man who is considered to be extremely hawkish when it comes to Pakistan to visit at such short notice, even for a photo-op, is quite a breakthrough.
An Indian friend commented that Modi is “all show and no substance” and added that anyone who believes he can bring change in Indo-Pak relations is setting themselves up for disappointment. Whether this is true or not, only time will tell.
It is no secret that I am no fan of the current Indian premier but it would do a lot of good to the South Asian region if he is successful in normalising relations between the two nuclear neighbours. As an optimist, I am hopeful of a positive outcome of Modi's Lahore trip. The year 2016 has started on a good note for the Indian subcontinent.
Happy New Year!
The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org