Swaraj bats for Pakistan

Swaraj bats for Pakistan

Rajeev Sharma
It is a rarity to see an Indian foreign minister taking a soft line on Pakistan in public. This rarity happened last Sunday when Sushma Swaraj, at her annual press conference in New Delhi, not only had some positive things to say about Pakistan and India-Pakistan peace process but also went a step further. She actually batted on behalf of Pakistan.
The Indian foreign minister’s “defense” of Pakistan before a jam-packed house of predominantly Indian journalists who were waiting to pounce upon even a syllable of Pakistan-bashing rhetoric, is indeed commendable and needs to be acknowledged and appreciated by the international community. But Swaraj did the opposite of what many journalists present there may have expected.
She said Pakistan had not refused to allow an NIA (National Investigation Agency) team to visit that country to probe the Pathankot airbase terror attack of Jan. 2-5 this year and had just sought “more time.” She expressed confidence that the “warmth and ease” in relationship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif could help resolve complex issues between the two neighbors, though she also made it clear that talks and terror cannot go hand in hand.
But here is a decoder. What else was she expected to say when her government has invested such a huge political capital in improving relations with Pakistan, particularly when this peace effort is being navigated by Prime Minister Modi personally?
The Modi government’s peace overtures toward Pakistan even in the aftermath of the Pathankot terror attack has evoked acerbic reactions from the opposition, particularly the Congress party, and the Modi government is acutely aware of the fact that it has tied itself in knots over its Pakistan policy.
In many ways, with its Pakistan policy the Modi government is riding a tiger it cannot dismount from. It is Pakistan, not India that has all the aces. Therefore, the Modi government is left with no other option but to give Pakistan a long rope and hope for a helping hand from the Nawaz Sharif government.
Islamabad too is acutely aware of the fact that if the current peace process, hanging by a slender thread, were to go awry, it will be end of the road for the peace process for the remainder of the Modi government’s tenure, which still has three more years.
Pakistan cannot afford to wipe off whatever political goodwill that the two prime ministers have accumulated thus far. That’s why Pakistan has not officially rejected the Indian request for a return trip by the Indian NIA to Pakistan.
Another quotable quote of Swaraj must have reverberated in the power circles of Islamabad. Sample her remark about India’s three-point policy in dealing with Pakistan: “First, we want to solve every issue thorough talks. Second, talks will be between India and Pakistan and no third country or party will be its part. Third, terror and talks will not go hand-in-hand.”
This is what all the previous Indian governments have been saying about Pakistan. Where is the novelty in this remark?
Nonetheless, the on-record remarks of the Indian foreign minister should be welcomed by Pakistan. She has exercised restraint and acted maturely. Now the ball is in Pakistan’s court. Though one cannot travel into the psyche of the Nawaz Sharif government, it goes to the credit of Pakistan that it has done nothing to rock the boat of the fragile peace process.
Nawaz Sharif is yet to fully recuperate from his recent open-heart surgery in London. One can assume that it will take a few more weeks before India and Pakistan have another round of substantive bilateral engagement.
But till such time another India-Pakistan bilateral engagement takes place it is vital for the two sides that their leaders refrain from making volatile statements. It is in this backdrop that the averments of Sushma Swaraj last Sunday assume all the more importance.
The signal from India is that New Delhi is keen on engaging with Pakistan in a civilized manner. Not only there is no room for terror toward making this joint endeavor successful, but more importantly there should be no room for either side bashing the other.
Swaraj toeing a soft line toward Pakistan must be seen in this backdrop and must not be confused as a sign of weakness of the Modi government. It is time for the two arch-rivals to set aside their egos and talk to one another in a mature way.
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