The rare equanimity shown by both India and Pakistan in the wake of Pathankot attack and the cooperative spirit exhibited in regards to the investigations into the incident, seems to have been vitiated by the statement of the Indian defence minister Manohar Parker in the Indian parliament that the non-state actors who carried out the attack could not have done so without support of the state. The statement regrettably constitutes a relapse into the old blame game. Sartaj Aziz advisor on foreign affairs was right on money when addressing the Defense Writers Group at a breakfast meeting in Washington he described the statement as an outdated narrative divorced from the new realities.

Pakistan’s response to the Pathankot episode has undoubtedly been very positive. Soon after the incident Prime Minister of Pakistan himself took the initiative to call his counterpart and expressed his willingness to cooperate with India in investigating the attack, unmask the perpetrators of that dastardly act and to punish them if they had any link with Pakistan. Not only that the Prime Minister also convened a high level meeting which was attended by the COAS, DG ISI, National Security Advisor to deliberate on the situation. The meeting condemned the attack in the strongest possible words and reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to cooperate with India for elimination of terrorism, vowed not to allow anyone to use Pakistan territory for attacks in any part of the world, reviewed progress on the leads provided by India and expressed the hope that the two countries would remain committed to a sustained, meaningful and comprehensive dialogue and resolved to build on the goodwill generated by the high level contacts between the two countries.

In pursuance to the commitment made with India for a thorough probe into the incident a formal FIR has also been registered. The Joint Investigation team has also been formed which will also visit India shortly. Until and unless the investigations are complete, there is a need for showing restraint in expressing premature opinions or jumping to conclusions. What the Indian defense minister has said is an unpalatable indiscretion which he should have avoided at this critical juncture.

The reality is that in an irreversible detour from the past legacies, the present government is showing zero tolerance for the non-state actors and has an unswerving commitment not to allow its territory to be used by such elements for attacks on the territory of the neighbouring countries. A decisive action has been initiated against the terrorist outfits and non-state actors without any distinction; a fact also recognized at the global level.

Pakistan itself has been a victim of terrorism and suffered enormously as a front line state in the war against global terrorism. It is actively and sincerely engaged in promoting the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan, tackling terrorism and is cooperating with other regional powers and US in this regard—- a role duly acknowledged by them as well as the UN—- which reinforces its credentials as an honest crusader against the menace of terrorism. India needs to appreciate and acknowledge these facts.

Both India and Pakistan have very high stakes in promoting peace and security in the region as well as in the resolution of disputes between them. They should not allow such incidents to scuttle the emerging amity between them and hold secretary level talks as soon as possible without linking it to the Pathankot incident.

This is probably the best ever chance for Pakistan and India to forge an alliance against terrorism and thwart the designs of the enemies of bonhomie between the two countries. Perhaps setting up a mechanism for intelligence sharing and acting jointly against the terrorists, extremist elements and non-state entities engaged in furthering their nefarious designs of stoking tensions between the two countries, would be the appropriate step in stopping the terrorists and non-state actors in their tracks and neutralizing their ability to launch terrorist attacks. It is also a rare opportunity for Pakistan to prove its claim of zero tolerance against terrorist and removing Indian apprehensions about the credibility of its actions.

Dialogue decidedly is the only way forward. The encouraging factor is that the leaders on the two sides of the divide are conscious of the changed geo-political and geo-strategic realities in the region that necessitate resolution of disputes between the two hostile neighbours.

The necessity of settling disputes through dialogue even dawned on the architect of Kargil, General Pervez Musharraf . He was even ready to go for an out of the box solution. It would perhaps be pertinent to point out that the option of an out of the box solution of the Kashmir problem, which is the root-cause of conflict-ridden relations between the two countries was also broached in 1963. Following the Indo-China war in 1962 Indian foreign minister Swaran Singh and Pakistani foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto held talks under the auspices of UK and US. According to a declassified memo of the US state department dated January 27, 1964 “Pakistan signified willingness to consider approaches other than a plebiscite and India recognized that the status of Kashmir was in dispute and territorial adjustments might be necessary”. Both sides, therefore, need to show sincerity of purpose and open-mindedness in carrying forward the much needed process of dialogue. The success would however depend on the ability of leaders on both sides to shed the past baggage, making a new beginning and showing flexibility on their taken positions.

It is a historic fact that no war like state can sustain itself for long. The peace overtures of the PML-N government towards India are in consonance with the historic lessons and the emerging realities in our own region. Building bonhomie between the two hostile neighbours is indeed an arduous task and great challenge for leaders on both sides of the divide. The future of this region will surely be determined by their ability to surmount the debilitating factors.