Now that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is back from his Delhi yatra, we can all come down from the cloud of euphoria generated by the media and take a realistic view of the visit. Has it really broken any ice? Should we expect a normalization of Pak-India relations because the two prime ministers both love their mothers?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for peace with India and loving mothers. I also believe that symbolic gestures of goodwill are a good idea and, sometimes, they even work. The problem with our Prime Minister’s decision to grace the coronation of Modi is that it seemed to hang in the air of wishful thinking. Actually, the problem goes much deeper than that.

The separate statements to the press given by our prime minister and the Indian foreign secretary after the bilateral meetings say it all. Our Prime Minister’s platitudes about peace and cooperation seemed more than a bit out of place in the face of the thorny issues highlighted by the Indian side. Had he been invited to be lectured by the new Prime Minister of India?

One cannot fault Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his friendly tone in Delhi; the occasion called for it. After reciprocating the apparently positive gesture of being invited to the swearing in ceremony of the new Indian prime minister, he could not have spoilt it all by laying all the thorns on the table in his very first meeting with Modi. Actually, it was Modi’s harsh lecturing of a guest which was in bad taste. But our Prime Minister, as they say, asked for it. Didn’t he know where Modi was coming from?

No matter how hard we try to ignore it, the new Prime Minister of India is no peacenik. His political career is littered with evidence to prove it. He rose from the ranks of the Hindu extremist RSS, stood prominently next to Advani in his yatra to destroy the Babri mosque and the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujrat took place under his watch as the state’s Chief Minister. His election campaign used communal hatred as a plank and employed anti-Pakistan rhetoric. It would be naïve to dismiss everything that has brought him to the highest office in India and expect him to start behaving differently just because he is now Prime Minister.

Those harboring such hopes should sober down after this initial interaction between the two prime ministers. Being optimistic is one thing, and disregarding the reality on the ground to pin hopes in the air of wishful thinking another. The prime minister’s desire for friendly ties with India is all very well, but it obviously takes two to tango. And anyone following Modi’s campaign should have known that he was in no mood to dance.

The invitation to our Prime Minister was heralded as the turning of a new leaf by the new Indian government which it clearly wasn’t. The invitation was sent to all SAARC countries, and its symbolism had more to do with projecting India as the leader of the region rather than expressing any love-pangs for Pakistan. It is confounding how this hegemonic posturing was misinterpreted across the media, and by our government, as the new Indian government’s desire for peace. An impression was created as if Pak-India ties would suffer irreparable damage if the Prime Minister didn’t go to Delhi.

In any case, though reciprocating a positive gesture is always nice, symbols should be reciprocated with symbols. A ceremonious attendance was all that was needed at this point, and the wishy washy message of peace did not have to be personally delivered by the head of the Pakistani government. Given the momentous changes taking place in our region, and the background of Modi, it would have been more appropriate for the government to send our figurehead president to Delhi. But that kind of ceremonious symbolism seems to be reserved for the SCO and China. And this is the disturbing bit.

Instead of working to build a closer relationship with the emerging alliance around the SCO, the PML-N government seems eager to become a part of the devious pivot to Asia, being engineered by the US-led empire in the region as a bulwark against China’s rising power. The empire hopes to retain its control of the region by linking China’s neighbors, including the SAARC countries, through a common market and security arrangements. Modi is the tea-boy of corporate imperialism, and India is the empire’s designated regional policeman under him. He must have received full marks for having the SAARC leaders lined up in Delhi for his installation as India’s new, and all powerful, leader.

In his first contact with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he not only bullied him over terrorism and Mumbai attacks, but also showed him the way forward; preferential trade with India, opening up Pakistan to the import of electricity and investment from India and brushing issues of importance to Pakistan such as the diversion and damming of water flowing into Pakistan and resolution of the Kashmir dispute under the carpet. The irony is that though he might not be able to say it in so many words, this also seems to be our Prime Minister’s lopsided blue-print for peace with India.

Actually, the two prime ministers have much in common. They are both sold to the same imperial ideas. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that the neo-liberal economic model of development that they believe in is a recipe that is failing left, right and center as we speak. It is a system of wealth extraction that is designed to work for a handful of people with big money in billions of dollars, throws the crumbs to those trying to make it big and sucks the blood of those striving to survive. You can see its fallout in rich and poor countries where income disparities have increased alarmingly under this model.

Prosperity is meaningless if it is a small island, getting smaller, surrounded by a sea of misery and squalor. Peace between India and Pakistan on neo-liberal terms will spell disaster for the citizens of both countries.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.