After the Pathankot attack in January this year , warmongers in both Pakistan and India were dealt a humiliating defeat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite being a right-wing political phenom, eschewed impulsiveness and chose to wait for Pakistan’s response.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, despite having a record of offering only symbolic resistance to anti-India voices in Pakistan, set up an unprecedented series of moves by the Pakistani government to work to answer post-attack questions.
India and Pakistan cooperated to an unprecedented degree in the Pathankot investigation. This is why, unlike the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing and the Mumbai attacks of 2008, Pathankot was not a defining event in the relationship.
The Uri attack does not seem to be headed for the same destiny as Pathankot. For starters, the duration of the attack was much shorter, the damage done, much worse.
It is also an attack in which Indian authorities will struggle to explain how an army installation in Kashmir, close to the Line of Control, could lose soldiers who were asleep in their tents. What kind of security protocols does the Indian Army follow in Kashmir, already in the grip of the most tension in recent memory, that such an attack could even be conceived?
Of course, the most significant difference between Pathankot and Uri is the context of Pakistan-India relations. Pathankot was designed to disrupt the momentum that Messrs Sharif and Modi had built up since their embrace at the Paris climate change summit toward the end of 2015. A meeting of their national security advisors in Bangkok was quickly followed by a Christmas Day visit to Lahore by Modi that had even the worst cynics dreaming of a real chance at regional normalisation.
Pathankot disrupted that momentum, but it did not totally destroy it. Non-state actors should never be given that power over the security of a billion and a half people.
Uri is indeed different because it comes at a time when hopes of better relations between Pakistan and India have already derailed. Doubling down repression in Kashmir, and the baiting of Pakistan during Modi’s August 15 speech means no détente was intended or scheduled.
As the UN General Assembly gets underway this coming week, the world was preparing to be treated to the ungainly spectacle of the two countries trading barbs with each other both inside the General Assembly hall, and outside it.
The Uri attack does not change that – it makes it much worse. Warmongers in both countries want war. They were denied their bloodlust after Pathankot. It may take some very special leadership to deny them again. Can we be sure that Messrs Modi and Sharif will provide it?
(Mosharraf Zaidi is a public policy analyst, columnist and former advisor to Pakistan’s foreign ministry. He tweets as @mosharrafzaidi)