Going around in circles

Going around in circles

Rajeev Sharma
These are decidedly not the best of times for India-Pakistan bilateral relations. On the contrary, the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors are in for some very testing times.
At stake is the very edifice of peace and friendship so assiduously constructed by the two prime ministers, Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif over the past two years. This edifice has developed huge cracks of late and may crumble like a house of cards if the two rivals do not take immediate corrective steps. By the time you read this, Indian Prime Minister would be preparing to return home after wrapping up his five-nation tour of Afghanistan, Qatar, Switzerland, the United States and Mexico.
Had it been normal times, one would have expected a shrewd politician like Modi to pull off yet another out-of-the-box idea to win friends and influence people in Pakistan.
Imagine this scenario. Modi diverting his special plane Air Force One to London on his way back home after wrapping up his five-nation tour to visit Nawaz Sharif where he is recuperating after undergoing open-heart surgery a little over a week ago.
This scenario may well have been a reality given Modi’s penchant for staging diplomacy coups.
But alas that doesn’t seem to be happening at least this time around. Though one cannot travel into the mind of Modi, none can discount the fact that the thought of Modi visiting London hospital to inquire about Sharif’s well-being wouldn’t have crossed the Indian premier’s mind!
Modi was among the first world leaders to have sent a “get well soon” message to Nawaz Sharif well before his surgery. However the possible script of Modi visiting an ailing Nawaz Sharif in London has gone awry. This can be blamed on the bad blood between the two South Asian countries over the Pathankot terror attacks of January 2-5.
Though the Modi government allowed an India visit, including a trip to the terror-hit Pathankot air base, by a Pakistani team which included officials from Pakistani intelligence services, the bonhomie generated by that event diplomacy is now threatening to be replaced by bitterness.
The reason for this is that the Modi government expects a return visit to Pakistan by an Indian investigation team and has been insisting that it was an oral understanding between the two sides and a precondition for the Indian government allowing the Pakistani investigation team to visit India in the first place to “jointly” probe the Pathankot terror attacks.
But that has not happened and indications emanating from Pakistan are that it won’t happen at all. This is despite the fact that the Modi government had played a huge stakes political gamble by allowing the Pakistani team to visit Pathankot. Expectedly, the Indian opposition parties, particularly the Congress party, have ridiculed the Modi government for being unduly soft with Pakistan.
It was indeed quite an unprecedented sight to see the Indian government led by Modi to defend Pakistan. The Modi government played ball with Pakistan hoping that Pakistan will reciprocate and this has not happened. Now the Modi government’s patience vis-à-vis Pakistan is wearing thin. This is corroborated by remarks of two senior Indian ministers. While Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar recently warned that Pakistan’s window of opportunity with India was fast closing, Home Minister Rajnath Singh followed suit by commenting that Pakistan’s consistent refusal to allow an Indian investigation team to visit Pakistan was “an act of betrayal”.
Obviously in the backdrop of this rising anti-Pakistan rhetoric by the Modi government leaves little elbowroom for Modi to pull off yet another event diplomacy coup. Five and a half months ago, Modi had stunned all by diverting his special plane from Kabul to Lahore to wish Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. But the current circumstances do not allow Modi the political bandwidth to pull off yet another diplomatic masterstroke of “expect the unexpected” variety.
Pakistan is yet to officially close the so-called Pathankot window. Undoubtedly, the Pakistan government is aware of the huge sweepstakes involved in taking a decision on this matter, this way or that way. The two countries will have to show high level of political maturity in preventing yet another total breakdown in their bilateral relations. Gone is the time for mere symbolisms and acts of event diplomacy, which are nothing more than photo-ops.
It's time for concrete action. The two sides have to act fast. Time is slipping by.
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