The sustained calls by both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to go ahead with the bilateral dialogue and their decision to cooperate in uncovering the planners of the Pathankot Air Force Base attack do create the political environment within which the two leaderships can genuinely reach out for the tipping point.
The tipping point would be the engagement of the principals of India-Pakistan intelligence agencies and of their relevant operational-level teams, to jointly identify the mastermind behind the attack. Why would this be the tipping point? One, because it will help to show the opponents of the dialogue that their acts of terror can no longer veto dialogues; two, it would demonstrate that the Indian political leadership is now capable of ensuring that its military-intelligence institutions will comply with the elected government’s agenda of cooperating to fight terrorism; and three, because such engagement can be the first step to signal that the two countries recognise the futility of using terrorism as a policy tool to provoke chaos and instability on the other’s territory.
Such an engagement will also send important signals within the policy and public spheres of both countries, where experience-based distrust has influenced perception of the other. Many in Pakistan see India as a neighbour that continues to fuel insurgency within Pakistan.
Many in India view Pakistan as a country that doesn’t genuinely seek dialogue but uses 1993-type Mumbai bombings, 26/11 Mumbai- and Pathankot-type attacks and Kargil-Khalistan type adventures to force it to concede ground on the Kashmir dispute and to avenge the 1971 breakup of Pakistan.
Institutional cooperation on Pathankot will send positive signals to both sides. From Pakistan’s side, it conveys the army chief’s reiteration that “Pakistan has zero-tolerance for terrorists” and also rules out using of any militant group as a tool to promote any policy objective.
Indian cooperation will convey to Pakistan that the Indian army and intelligence agencies have decided to break away from the mode of a naysayer on intelligence-level cooperation with Pakistan. The Indian army and intelligence agencies twice prevented Manmohan Singh from operationalising the 2006 anti-terrorism mechanism agreed with Pervez Musharraf in Havana.
The cumulative impact of all this is that the present context of the India-Pakistan relationship lends itself to recurrent crises and militates against taking even small steps towards resolution of critical people-centred issues like Kashmir.
Instead, it repeatedly finds major efforts made by its top leadership become a casualty of terrorism. Reaching out and institutionalising this tipping point is an essential prerequisite for Islamabad and New Delhi to return to addressing the Kashmir issue in the Nawaz-Vajpayee and Musharraf-Manmohan mode.
Sharif and Modi must therefore actively cooperate to identify the Pathankot terrorists. Fortunately, the groundwork for this was done at the Bangkok meeting between the two national security advisers.
In recent years the law of diminishing returns has kicked in for Pakistan and India. Most of these approaches, plus use of sabotage and proxies, have not delivered sustained gains. It’s time to work together to shrink space and opportunities for all brands of terrorists.
Nasim Zehra is a Pakistan-based TV anchor and columnist
The views expressed are personal