India’s premier elect, Narendra Modi, will be formally sworn in on May 26 after steering the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to an unprecedented victory in the general elections. He has invited heads of SAARC members, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to attend the swearing-in ceremony. Since then, there has been much debate in Pakistan over the invitation. Should the PM respond affirmatively and go? Perhaps send someone else in his place so that we don’t appear too eager or too stubborn? What about Mr Modi’s remarks against Pakistan which were made during his election campaign? Why then, once elected, is he so eager to have our PM over?
The hysteria surrounding the debate is understandable. After all, it’s India we’re talking about, and we’re doing it in Pakistan. Mr Modi’s polarising personality doesn’t help either. But, the fact is that India is real, and so is Mr Modi. If we, in Pakistan, look towards our East, we’re bound to find them both staring right back at us. Mr Modi will disappear sooner or later as all mortals do, but the country he heads will still be there. It is Pakistan’s relationship with India, and not Mr Modi, which is the real issue here. What do we do then? How do we establish a mutually beneficial economic relationship? How do we solve Kashmir? How do we address issues pertaining to cross-border terrorism? One thing is certain; none of these questions can be answered with a gun. Been there, done that. Only one option remains; that of comprehensive and consistent dialogue. What’s really required is a platform where debate over aforementioned issues and disputes is allowed to take place. We’re suspicious of each other, Pakistanis and Indians. Those who live right opposite, and do not engage, tend to feel that way about each other. Political and diplomatic interaction provides foes with excellent opportunities to converge on matters which otherwise appear impossible to resolve. To say that until or unless a certain issue is resolved, there can be no dialogue is an extremely unreasonable and illogical position to take. Complex issues can only be resolved through dialogue, and those who stand in opposition help maintain the status quo at best and directly contribute towards further deterioration at worst.
No one is claiming that the Prime Minister’s visit to India, if it does take place, will be followed by a series of historical bilateral discussions. However, by accepting the invitation, Pakistan will be demonstrating that it finds the idea appealing, and is willing to work towards making it a reality. The world is watching. The ball is in our court. No one likes a spoilt sport. Let’s play.