New Delhi: The terror attack at the Pathankot air base may have raised questions on the about-to-be-resumed official dialogue between India and Pakistan, but experts say the best response to such incidents would be to continue the peace process that has just begun.
India has long maintained terror originating from across the border should stop for the peace talks to deliver. However, the recently resumed dialogue process, and the surprise visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Pakistan on his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif’s birthday, appeared to write new chapters in the annals of bilateral diplomacy.
The attack at the frontline Indian Air Force (IAF) base in northern Punjab, around 30 km from the international border, coming within days of Modi’s maiden visit to Pakistan, might have made a dent, but the balanced response from both the countries have raised hopes. The five terrorists who staged the attack were killed in a gunbattle that lasted for 15 hours. Three Indian security personnel were also killed.
Pakistan immediately condemned the attack and expressed its commitment to partner with India to eradicate terrorism. Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh, while stating that terror will be given a “befitting reply”, added that India wants peace.
Former Indian Army chief, General V.P. Malik, described the attack as “minor” and said it was unlikely to disrupt the dialogue process. He also said that following Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Lahore, the stakes are high as the blame or credit will go completely to him.
“We must look at the prime minister’s visit as a strategic engagement; with one engagement everything cannot fall in place,” General Malik said, adding: “The second thing is that this particular event is a minor one; so its impact on the dialogue process will not be much.”
The former army chief also said that the attack could not have been planned following Modi’s Pakistan visit. “Such attacks are planned months in advance…” he said.
Stressing on the requirement of the dialogue process, General Malik said: “At the moment what has happened is that the prime minister’s personal involvement is at stake… Earlier we could blame the foreign policy, but now fingers will only be pointed at him.”
Happymon Jacob, Associate Professor of Disarmament Studies in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said that the talks should be continued not only along the formal lines but also through back channels to counter the menace of terrorism.
“Every time a dialogue process is started between India and Pakistan something happens, and this time is no exception. It shows militant organisations on that side are not happy with the dialogue,” Jacob told IANS.
“India should respond to this attack by enhancing surveillance and defence capabilities and at the same time not calling off the talks,” Jacob said.
Stressing on the need for back channel talks, he said: “There should be back channel talks with the Pakistan Army and ISI as well… Now that they have taken up this ambitious dialogue, it should be concluded.”
From the other side of the border, Yaqoob Khan Bangash, a history professor at Lahore’s Information Technology University, spoke on similar lines, adding that India accepts that the Pakistani state is not behind terror attacks.
“I don’t think the Indian side is going to withdraw from the dialogue process. The Indian side has accepted Pakistan’s argument that all terrorist attacks are not from the Pakistani state. If India had not recognised this argument, they would not have gone forward with the talks,” Bangash told IANS on the phone from Lahore.
Bangash said the Pakistan Army is largely on board the peace talks, adding that continuing the dialogue will be the best reply to the terrorists.
“There is a constituency in Pakistan that does not want India-Pakistan peace, but the two governments should not bow down to these entities. If we stop talking, it will encourage them”.
“The government of India should strengthen the hand of Pakistan in fighting terror. The Indian government knows the political government is in support of peace with India,” Bangash said, addding that the two countries should share intelligence.
Bangash also said that Modi’s Pakistan visit had a huge positive impact. That will be one of the factors pushing forward the talks.
“Modi’s visit to Lahore changed the scenario quite a bit. He has shown he is a statesman,” Bangash added.