The attack on the Indian Airbase in Pathankot has been timed to ‘perfection’ by the perpetrators. As discussed in this space last week Indo-Pak diplomacy was remoulded in December by the inauguration of TAPI and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Lahore, which had put the ball firmly in Pakistan’s court to take action against India-bound militants. The Pathankot attack, a security convulsion, has shaken up that court.

Even so, the BJP leadership has once again proven its political nous, relative to the trigger-happy Congress governments of the recent past, by restraining itself from pointing unsubstantiated fingers at Pakistan. Should the Indian government maintain that restraint, the BJP leadership would reaffirm that its recent anti-Pakistan rhetoric was an election gimmick ahead of Kashmir and Bihar state elections. It would also reconfirm its ambitions of eyeing regional leadership, and economic growth, both of which would be bolstered by improved relations with Pakistan.

The Times of India cartoon on Sunday sketched by by Sandeep Adhwaryu, where Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Modi are all showed stabbed in the back inside three photo-frames captioned Kargil, Mumbai and Pathankot, epitomises the Indian mood following Saturday’s attack. The opposition is clamouring for accountability from Modi, questioning his ‘appeasement’ of Pakistan. Should New Delhi stand firm on much-needed dialogue with Pakistan, despite scathing domestic pressure, and perilous recent history, it would only add pressure on Islamabad.

Islamabad traditionally has dreaded Indian hand of friendship more than any warmongering gestures. For, reciprocating the latter comes involuntarily, while the former can put Islamabad at loggerheads with Rawalpindi, which has been unadvisable throughout Pakistan’s political history. And therefore, watching Modi stand firm atop the overflowing cesspool of anti-Pakistan sentiments would only push Nawaz towards that confrontation, considering his long standing stance on friendly ties with India.

And yet, the very fact that the establishment was on board and reportedly facilitated Modi’s visit to Lahore, shows that at the very least Rawalpindi might be welcoming functional ties with India. However, what remains uncertain is whether that is a temporary stance to ensure stalemate eastwards while Pakistan Army deals with the internal militant threat, or if the establishment actually is on board to abandon its hitherto anti-Indianism. For, only in November COAS Raheel Sharif is reported to have told US Secretary of State John Kerry in a meeting in Washington that friendly ties with India is akin to ‘abandoning Kashmir’.

There’s a fair chance that the reaction to Pathankot attack, from all relevant parties in the South Asian security and diplomatic machinery, would give definitive answers to fundamental questions pertaining to regional harmony. For, the attack itself has brought together all the variables needed to formulate an Indo-Pak calculus to deal with diplomatic derivatives and security integrals.

According to the Indian intelligence, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) orchestrated the Pathankot attack from its Bahawalpur base. Reports of JeM relocating to Bahawalpur began surfacing in 2009, post-Mumbai attacks, with jihadist inscriptions and insignia emerging from the city. JeM is believed to have integrated into al-Qaeda and the Punjabi Taliban, waging jihad in Afghanistan, Kashmir and vying to penetrate the Punjab border to attack Indian ‘mainland’ just like it is believed to have done in 2001, with the attack on the Indian parliament.

The Indian intelligence claims that JeM militants penetrated the Gurdaspur border on New Year’s Eve, attacking the Pathankot airbase while dressed in Indian military attire. There are also reports of communication between the militants and their families in Pakistan, with one recorded call allegedly showcasing a ‘Seraiki-speaking’ militant talking to his mother about ‘embracing martyrdom’. Whether these calls linked Indian intelligence to JeM and its base in Bahawalpur, or whether knowledge of JeM’s affiliation with the Punjabi Taliban inspired this evidence, only the actual evidence can confirm.

Ironically, it’s the alternative viewpoint which might provide credence to the aforementioned evidence. Kashmiri separatist United Jihad Council (UJC) claiming responsibility for the Pathankot attack via a statement released by Syed Sadaqat Hussain was suspicious on many fronts; Hussain’s insistence on absolving ‘Pakistani involvement’ for one. Secondly, it’s unlikely that UJC’s mujahideen would’ve been able to survive a four-day siege. The rigorous fight by the militants suggests gilt-edged military training and awareness of relevant geography.

Even so, from Islamabad’s viewpoint, neither the Indian intelligence’s assertions nor UJC’s claim completely absolve Pakistan’s role in the Pathankot attack. UJC’s affiliation with the ISI is common knowledge, while lack of meaningful action against JeM leadership – like Masood Azhar for instance – makes Pakistan accountable for compliance, if not connivance. That accountability further self-magnifies when considering the reluctance to act against, nay eagerness to shield, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi over alleged involvement in the Mumbai attacks.

The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) busting ISIS affiliated cells in Sialkot – also situated near the Indo-Pak border – and arresting eight Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) militants last week should’ve been reason enough for a crackdown against eastward-bound militants. That the Pathankot attack has taken place, and Punjab Law Minister has confirmed 100 people joining ISIS from the province since then, should only add to the alarming urgency.

JeM’s affiliation with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, JuD members pledging allegiance to ISIS, and UJC drifting towards any jihadist faction that makes hollow promises of Kashmiri freedom, signify something that has been obvious all along. That the establishment can’t limit the radical Islamists towards geostrategic targets, and that the jihadist monsters will go after anything that challenges its murderous ideology. As the past decade has revealed, those targets are often found within the Pakistani borders.

It’s time to understand that countering JeM or JuD and alienating UJC shouldn’t be perceived as an ‘Indian demand’. The JeM might proudly display Delhi’s Red Fort on its recruitment banners, but the Punjabi Taliban have contributed to killing thousands of Pakistani citizens, while the Red Fort remains intact.

Meanwhile, any military support for Kashmiri jihadist factions should be replaced with diplomatic backing for those who support a peaceful resolution towards autonomy. Furthermore, for Islamabad – and Rawalpindi – a relative stalemate and maintenance of status quo in Kashmir is actually much needed so that internal challenges can first be dealt with. It’s a no-brainer that the best possible resolution for Kashmir can only be obtained amidst regional harmony, and not through militant proxies and Indo-Pak skirmishes.

We’ve spent decades trying to ‘liberate Kashmir’ through war. Let’s give peace a shot as well. For, a peaceful resolution to Kashmir would be necessitated by peace between India and Pakistan.