PM Nawaz, army chief head to Saudi, Iran to mend rift”, was a news headline from yesterday that ought to be music to Pakistani ears for more reasons than one. The two are off to Saudi Arabia on Monday and then onward to Iran on Tuesday in an effort to diffuse heightened tensions between the two rivals after Saudi Arabia executed Nimri and the Saudi consulate in Tehran was stormed by the Iranian public in response. The rivalry for the leadership of the Islamic world and dominance of the region between the two ideological states, one Sunni and the other Shia, has already caused many fault lines to open with resultant death and destruction in several countries including Syria, Iraq and Yemen etc.

The fact that Pakistan’s civil and military leaderships avoided becoming embroiled in Yemen after the Saudis put tremendous pressure on Pakistan, despite ministers from the UAE also hurling twitter threats at Pakistan at the time in support of their GCC senior partner, was a huge confidence inspiring development for Pakistanis. Once again, the recent unilateral announcement by Saudi Arabia of Pakistan being one of the 34 or 36 country coalition against terror took Pakistan by surprise, such is Saudi Arabia’s arrogance. But once again, Pakistan’s military and civil leaderships navigated the choppy waters skillfully whilst remaining on the same page, and got away with bog standard diplomatic language without any new military commitment. It goes without saying that sharing intelligence etc. where Daesh is concerned is common sense and should not inspire suspicion or fear, even if it is being done with Saudi Arabia.

But the two Sharifs travelling together in an attempt at rapprochement between KSA and Iran is good news, not just because two good Samaritans are off to do a good deed such that sectarian strife may be doused and further spread of Sunni-Shia conflict may be contained. The real joy for the Pakistani polity lies in the fact that this is the umpteenth example of the military and civil leaderships being on the same page and being willing to work together in harmony.

A few weeks ago just after PM Modi’s visit to Lahore, I had asserted in these pages that the controversy in the media surrounding Mr. Modi’s visit was not necessarily the GHQ’s work, and that one needed to widen the traditional lens through which one looks at civil-military relations; that there were reasons to believe that General Sharif was on board and driving the peace wagon with PM Sharif; that the military was not a monolith and that boyzes within the boyzes could be trying to sabotage something they didn’t agree with.

Then Pathankot happened and most observers declared the talks and bonhomie between India and Pakistan were as good over – that Pakistan, as a state, was back to its old tricks. I made a categorical judgment: that Pakistan would do something different this time, because there is something different this time; because GHQ really has turned direction, even if it cannot control all its erstwhile proxies; that talks will not necessarily derail.

Within days Pakistan government made some ‘arrests’ of Jaish-e-Mohammed leaders and sealed their madrassas. The response from India was positive in the extreme, at least when compared with knee jerk reactions of the past. Ministry of External Affairs of India (MEA) gave out a series of statements welcoming measures taken by Pakistan and reposing confidence and hope in Pakistan government’s intent to bring perpetrators to account. The looming Foreign Secretaries level talks scheduled for Friday January 15 were not cancelled abruptly.

Instead, Pakistan and India decided to announce rescheduling of FS level talks at the same time and in similar language, signaling great diplomacy and great messaging: the message being ‘there’s no acrimony, we are working and deciding things together, not firing salvos at each other’.

One of the most constructive comments of the MEA was that a possible reason India-Pakistan FSs had rescheduled talks was possibly to move beyond the shadow of Pathankot. But the most telling aspect of India’s reaction was reflected in MEA spokesperson’s words, ‘Jab miya biwi razi, tau kya kare ga qazi’ in reference to the plan for the foreign secretaries of the two countries to meet in the very near future by mutual consent and desire. This roughly translates to mean that if two parties are agreed upon something, third persons really don’t matter.

Meanwhile, the National Security Advisors of both countries are said to have been in almost daily contact since the Pathankot attack, and they were said to have met on Thursday, a day before the FS talks were to have taken place to work out a plan to carry forward a dialogue in face of not only Pathankot, but several other attacks since relations began to improve. Both countries’ consulates in Afghanistan were attacked subsequent to the Pathankot attack (supposedly by their respective boyzes), and an attack on a polio prevention center in Quetta was also being alleged to have the Indian hand in it.

However, this was the first time in living history that leaderships of both countries stayed the course of talks instead of letting recriminations fly immediately accompanied with calling off the dialogue and peace process.

What bigger evidence could there be of the GHQ supporting the peace initiative with India in letter and spirit, than India’s faith in Pakistan’s sincerity to curb terrorism against her from its own soil? India has never given any weight to a Pakistani civilian government’s commitments because it believes the military to be in charge. If now India is willing to go along with Pakistan’s promises and commitments, it means she believes the Pakistan military to be on board.

It is another matter, and was a focus of much mirth on twitter, as to what or who India was pointing at when the MEA spokesperson spoke of the ‘Qazi’ (third person). My guess is it’s the militants who are growing distracted with the increasing cooperation between the two countries and hence increasing their attacks to somehow derail the peace process. If India really thought GHQ was the Qazi, it wouldn’t be displaying such warmth, reasonability and bonhomie.

And this is what brings one back to the joy over the joint visit to the KSA and Iran. It is but another affirmation of the GHQ being supportive of the foreign policy initiatives of the government, not only in letter but also in spirit.