The battle for Pathankot had entered its third day on January 4, when the news of the attack on the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan started coming in. The India International Centre auditorium in Delhi was packed with retired diplomats, who were attending the release of a book called Jinnah Often Came to Our House by Kiran Doshi, a former envoy to Pakistan. “Normalising relations with Pakistan is very difficult,’’ said Doshi, introducing his book. A former high commissioner to Pakistan nodded in agreement and said: “This is the dilemma of the Indian Foreign Service.’’
Such “impossibility” has come back to haunt Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the diplomatic high of his surprise visit to Lahore. With the attacks in Pathankot and Mazar-e-Sharif, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over India’s engagement with Pakistan. Terrorism, however, is back on the table. There were reports that the Pakistani establishment hoped to push it down to home-secretary-level talks, but the Pathankot attacks have ensured that terrorism would dominate talks. There are hints that the national security advisers will meet before the foreign-secretary-level talks scheduled for January 15.
In an effort to get more views on the subject, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj held a meeting with former Indian high commissioners to Pakistan on January 3. The participants included G. Parthasarathy, T.C.A. Raghavan, Shivshankar Menon, Satinder Lamba, Satyadutt Pal and Sharad Sabharwal. It is believed that Sushma wanted to have a “free and frank conversation” as one of the criticisms against the government is that its Pakistan policy lacks vision. There seems to be a desire to engage, but it is not backed up with hard-nosed diplomatic experience. The retired diplomats seem to have told Sushma that the talks should go on, “but the engagement required firmness’’. Unlike in the past, the Indian government did not immediately point fingers at Pakistan following the Pathankot attacks. Modi called the terrorists “enemies of humanity’’. Pakistan, too, responded positively, possibly with some prodding from the US. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called up Modi from Sri Lanka and spoke for 15 minutes, reiterating the importance of continuing the peace process.
Modi is said to have told Sharif that “firm and immediate action against the organisations and individuals responsible for and linked to the Pathankot terrorist attack” was needed. The intercepts of the calls made by the terrorists before the attacks were said to be handed over to Pakistan.
Former Pakistan foreign secretary Shahryar Khan said it would be wrong to believe that the Pakistan army was not on board regarding the peace talks with India. “This army chief [Raheel Sharif] has done more to address terrorism than anyone else. It is important not to play into the hands of the extremists,” said Khan. Former Pakistan high commissioner to India Shahid Malik, too, wanted the talks to continue. “There is no substitute to dialogue,” he said.
The United Jihad Council headed by Syed Salahuddin has claimed responsibility for the Pathankot attacks. This, however, is a “red herring’’, said Rana Banerji, former special secretary, cabinet secretariat. “They have done this in the past.” Former diplomat Rajiv Dogra said the terrorists who attacked Pathankot were well-trained and motivated. “In Paris, the situation got normalised in four or five hours. In Peshwar, the operation was over in three hours,” he said. “The question is, should it be business as usual or business with a threat perception?’