The historic 150-minute stopover of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Lahore – the ‘heart of Pakistan’ – took everyone by surprise. The hawks and naysayers on both sides of the border were trounced when Modi unexpectedly landed in Lahore to wish his counterpart on his 66th birthday. Thanks to Chaudhry Nisar for not sending Modi and his 120-person delegation without visa back.
On the last leg of a long tour, PM Modi called PM Sharif earlier in the day asking him if he could stop over in Pakistan on his way back home. “Please come, you are our guest. Please come and have tea with me”, said the hospitable host from Lahore. PM Modi was coming from Afghanistan where he inaugurated the new Afghan Parliament building built by India. And before Afghanistan, he was in Russia where he signed 16 agreements across diverse sectors. This is the first visit – if we can call it as such – to Pakistan by any Indian premier in the last decade.
Modi wished Nawaz Sharif on his birthday and made his plan of dropping by in Lahore public only through Twitter and left everyone flabbergasted by his #Tweeplomacy.
Spoke to PM Nawaz Sharif & wished him on his birthday.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 25, 2015
Looking forward to meeting PM Nawaz Sharif in Lahore today afternoon, where I will drop by on my way back to Delhi.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 25, 2015
Nawaz Sharif, who was busy for the weekend for his granddaughter Mehrun Nisa’s wedding at his Jati Umra residence, had the event graced by PM Modi’s presence. Sharif’s family welcomed the visiting Prime Minister.
The Nawaz-Modi bonhomie reached a next level in the Christmas evening and the media on both sides of the border was left awestruck. Special transmission arrangements of the Pakistani media celebrating the birthday of her founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah were eclipsed by the unexpected sojourn.
After a Nawaz-Modi tete-a-tete in Paris, National Security Advisors’ meeting and Sushma Swaraj’ recent visit to Islamabad, everyone could see that the relations were moving in the right direction. Even so, Mr. Modi’s sudden birthday diplomacy put it on fast-track.
However, as always, there was no shortage of spoilers and naysayers.
Granted all the handshakes, hugs, gift exchanges and the healthy optics projected by the media, there is a suspicion visible in the analyses on both sides.
More than the Pakistani naysayers who are just consumed by the presence of the steel magnate Jindal at the occasion and the ego hurt by obliging with Modi’s sudden plan of sojourn in the land of pure, the vociferous reservations – so to say – of the Indian opposition party Congress have absolutely disappointed the aspirants of peaceful relations.
"It is unfortunate that we get to know about prime minister's visit through a tweet... India and Pakistan relations are not so good as yet that he stops over there on his way back from another country," said Congress spokesperson Ajoy Kumar and another Congress leader called it an “adventure” on part of Modi and that the meeting was “pre-planned”.
And from Pakistan’s side, analysts, punching well beyond their weight, have been clamoring against the lack of ‘due importance being meted out to Pakistan’ and calling the trip ‘pointless’. Well a breakthrough was never expected in the first place, if we think a little. But any step in the direction should be welcomed.
If anything, hawkish voices from both Pakistan and India post Nawaz-Modi meeting have proved that once you feed it to the media, they ruin it for you. It is the last-minute plan that did the trick. If the media and powerful anti-peace lobbies were fed the news of any meeting beforehand, riding the horse of patriotism they would have ruined it all by their obsession with reading between the lines. And Pakistan's foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chowdhury’s statement after the meeting today that "The two leaders decided to take forward the dialogue process ... It was agreed that foreign secretaries will meet in Islamabad next month” would probably never have seen the light of the day. For the right reasons, proponents of backchannel diplomacy stress that private drawing rooms make the best conference rooms.
People-to-people relations (track three diplomacy), as Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri stresses in his book Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove, is essential for a lasting thaw in Pak-India relations. And for this to happen, our ego wrapped in jingoism can take a back seat for a while and the policy of give-and-take through dialogue should guide us. Sadly, some distorted version of nationalism sold by hawks on television comes in the way of trade and warm-up of bilateral relations every time. This explains the need for a conduit for secret meetings and a rendezvous. Anyway a bold move by Modi by stopping by in Lahore provided a perfect ending to his Russia-Afghanistan-Pakistan tour. Jitters are already being felt. We can hope this bonhomie doesn’t end here and meaningful interactions in future get going.