Should we be suspicious of Modi’s visit to Lahore?

Published: December 29, 2015
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The problem of India and Pakistan is that both countries interact with each other in the backdrop of a trust deficit which is not mere mistrust but morbid distrust. PHOTO: TWITTER

The hysterical outburst, as if the man was in a state of utter delirium, at Lahore Airport of a reporter of a Pakistani news channel on the surprise visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Lahore on December 25, 2015, left me gaping with disbelief. He asserted, with such certainty, that never in the history of international diplomacy have foreigners ever entered the territory of a sovereign and independent state without procuring the visa first.

I must admit that for a moment even I was taken aback at the alleged singularity of such a diplomatic irregularity. However, my own sense was that visas are merely a formality that states introduce for purposes of convenience. A legitimate government can always waive the visa or stamp it in at the port of entry and in any case foreign dignitaries can always be excluded from such formalities.

But more importantly, the cocksure reporter forgot General Muhammad Ziaul Haq’s cricket diplomacy. He landed at the Jaipur Cricket Ground ostensibly to watch an India-Pakistan match in 1987 when in reality it was to defuse the tension which had been growing along the international border in the wake of the Indian military’s Operation Brass Tacks exercises. In those days, India was greatly concerned about Pakistan’s support to the Khalistan movement. The Pakistanis, on the other hand, remembered that India provided sanctuary and support to the Mukti Bahini during the civil war in East Pakistan. There is no dearth of both sides being caught with their pants down on almost all matters. At any rate, the visit by Ziaul Haq resulted in some sort of a rapport being established between Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi and him. Thereafter Pakistan’s support to the Khalistanis was low-key until Zia died in a plane crash and Benazir Bhutto wounded up the Khalistani bases on Pakistani soil.

However, Operation Brass Tacks produced an unintended consequence: Pakistan decided it would at all costs acquire a nuclear weapon because in a conventional land war it would always be at a disadvantage to India. This is how politics always happen in the international arena. I have called it the anarchy of the international system in which ad hoc-ism rather than properly planned chess moves are taking place, especially when it is the India-Pakistan imbroglio.

The problem of India and Pakistan is that both countries interact with each other in the backdrop of a trust deficit which is not mere mistrust but morbid distrust.

Let me underscore that chauvinism and jingoism in the Indian media, and defence and security establishment, is no less pathetic than what we have on our side.

But let me make another point, which is far more important. The response to the Indian premier’s visit needs to be categorised between those who were surprised and those who were shocked. Surprise is a response which happens when something unexpected happens. Shock is an extreme form of response to the unexpected. It usually, though not necessarily, conveys negative vibes and is indicative of fear and angst.

There is no denying that Narendra Modi’s visit surprised most of us even though, ever since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif graciously attended his inauguration and a few times when they have met at international conferences and summits, their body language has been friendly. To me the visit to Lahore on December 25, 2015, was a continuation of an initiative which was taken in February 1999, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Lahore and an accord was signed to establish peace and to resolve all conflicts between the two countries through peaceful bilateral negotiations. The Kargil incident was sabotage. I have argued in my book, “Pakistan: The Garrison State (Oxford 2014)”, that no other action by Pakistan has done more harm to its Kashmir stand than that foolish Kargil misadventure.

It is, of course, true that Mr Modi’s track record is very different from that of Mr Vajpayee and we all have legitimate reasons to be suspicious of him, since it was during his tenure as chief minister that carnage of Muslims took place in Gujarat in 2002. There are video clips available on YouTube in which Modi’s tone is most unfriendly, event brutish, when talking about Pakistan.

Yet, we know that politicians say things to gain cheap popularity but many are also sharp enough to understand the limits of such antics.

In fact, one can argue that those who are ultra-nationalists can deliver peace more reliably. Have we forgotten that it was Anwar Al-Sadat who launched the surprise attack on Israel in 1973 (in 1967, it was the other way round and Israel launched a war against the Arabs)?

But it was also him who went to Israel to make peace with the man who was a certified terrorist but had been elected as the prime minister of Israel? I’m talking about Menachem Begin.

So, people change their minds and they do it both from an assessment of the objective reality and their own ability to think out of the box. If Modi is just being clever, and if for Nawaz Sharif friendship with India is yet another opportunity to make money, then such gimmickry would be exposed soon.

I think we should give peace a chance and if Mr Modi is now a man of peace then he should always be welcome to Pakistan. It has been reported in the press that this time the Pakistan Army has encouraged the revival of peace talks. Both Imran Khan and the Pakistan People’s Party have also welcomed the visit. So, this is the right moment to catch and make history.

On the other hand, we can be sure that those who are in a state of shock are going to do their utmost to sabotage any revival of the peace process. I had a hectic intercourse on social media with some self-styled experts who said that Modi should be arrested instead of being welcomed when he entered Lahore. Others went even further.

However, such remarks will end up in the dustbin of history. While there were a few voices that intended to spread discord, there were many that lauded the diplomatic gesture.

It is futile to squabble over the premise of Modi’s visit to Lahore. The fact is that it happened. The two heads of state met cordially. The entire world is witness to it. The process of peace that has been set in motion should not be thwarted. Instead of making such a foolish fuss about visas, we should demand that visas should be altogether abolished between India and Pakistan.

Ishtiaq Ahmed

Ishtiaq Ahmed

The author is a professor emeritus of Political Science at Stockholm University. He has been a Visiting Professor at LUMS, Pakistan and is an Honorary Senior Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He is an award-winning author of "The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed" and "Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011)".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Feroz

    Good that Modi visited but making too much out of it is speculation.Recommend

  • Sane

    Modi’s visit to Pakistan…..Hypocrisy at the best.Recommend

  • Milind A

    “It is, of course, true that Mr Modi’s track record is very different
    from that of Mr Vajpayee and we all have legitimate reasons to be
    suspicious of him, since it was during his tenure as chief minister
    that carnage of Muslims took place in Gujarat in 2002”

    How does his track record during the carnage of Muslims affect Pakistan? Its an internal matter to India.. No wonder Pakistanis are in a confused state of mind.. The India-Pakistan relations are going nowhere unless this Pakistani mindset is fixed.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Pakistan will always have some suspicions regarding Hindus.Intolerant lot.India gained from the partition, thank godRecommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    So Menachem Begin who was a democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel was a terrorist while Anwar Sadat who seized power in a coup and ran a security state was a gentleman. I can judge your intellectual caliber from this statement.Recommend

  • maynotmatter

    Good going Modi and Nawaz, don’t get distracted.Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    Suspicious? Yes, big time. Still he is welcome. We are ready to take the chance. If you do not dare, what can you win? The first step to normalise relations has to be taken. I’m glad that it happened.Recommend

  • Sudesh

    India and Pakistan relations can definitely be improved. There is always hope.Recommend

  • Allah Hafiz

    Modi is shrewd..Chanakya neeti….pakistanis are converted…they are confused about everything…from culture to language to traditions to whatever…and remember modi never sets a foot if its not profitable…its all about economics….Recommend

  • PAK KA BAAP

    the fact is 10 muslim mlechaa is equal one hindu / sikh…it proved in 1971 ..when 97000 muslims surrendered in front of 3000 hindu rajputs / jats of indian army…PAKISTAN IS USED AS DUMPING GROUND BY HINDU RAJPUTS, JATTS AND AFGHANS..THATS WHY MOST PAKISTANIS HAVE HINDU SURNAME LIKE BHATTI , CHEEMA , WARAICH , ETCRecommend

  • Ishtiaq Ahmed (author)

    Begin is recorded in the British police and intelligence reports as a terrorist who was involved in several cases of terrorism before and during the establishment of Israel. Just go and do homework. Sadat took over after Gamal Nasser died suddenly. Once again your intellectual calibre is at stake not mine.Recommend

  • zoro

    Unless there is KARGIL-IIRecommend

  • Kasturi K

    Don’t get confused Milind. His rhetoric about Pakistan are a known phenomena. He loves to talk negative about Pakistan on every forum, don’t forget. Then his admission of what India did in Bangaladesh in 1971 , meddling in the affairs of Pakistan, also did not help. But still , we are ready to move forward. But people like you will always remain negative. We are ready to ignore that even if the relation between the two countries can bring positive change in common man’s life, across the divide.Recommend

  • Eqbal Khan

    I have heard your name and that your analysis is good, but your this writing is nothing but big disappointment. Basic argument is that what happened here in this instance, happened before, people who are harsh they can change their mind, good things may happen and give peace a chance. Not telling in communicative form but as a underlying message is “TRUST MODI and TRUST INDIA.” Trusting Modi and Trusting India in light of what is going on around should not be an option. Because loosing Bihar Elections, Beef Row, International Pressure on Kashmir, India’s quest for UNSC Membership, fast changing situation in Afghanistan have India occupied. You cannot simply ignore them or pretend that they do not exist. All of these must be factored into any meaningful analysis. However, you simply ignored all those. To you it maybe easy to ignore how we all feel but we are not going to do the same thing. The article is full of inaccuracies and intellectual dishonesty.Recommend

  • Kamath

    Let us wait and see how all this tamas ha would move forward. There is a limit how far personal diplomacy can take two countries ahead. When real interests of two conuntries collide, prime ministers of India and Pakistan can not treat the countries as their personal satraphies. India is too big to be handled by one man Modi, for he has limited understanding of India.Recommend

  • Time Is Up

    Best part, is – its economics without exploitation. Even the slave traders talked about economics and ROIs.

    India, Pakistan should have trade relationship which is mutually beneficial.Recommend

  • Sane

    But, you could not do anything to control Muslim Mlechaa (may be you mean Maleech (dirty/impure), which you Hindus calling Muslims even before 1947. You mindset is just a depiction if Indian Govt. and you PM Policy. This is also paving way to get India divided one more time. Recommend

  • siesmann

    And so was Yasser Arafat.But it never stopped the Muslim wish and commitment to annihilate the Jews.Recommend

  • siesmann

    And you forget what you did in Bangladesh(you killed who you called your brothers,you raped who you called your sisters).You can’t move forward as long as Mullah has the ultimate say in Pakistan.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Well ,you ignored the massacre of Bangladeshis ,and you ignored the violence of TTP.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Be afraid… be VERY afraid !!Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    11 Million Bangalis were uprooted from March 25, 1971 to June 71. No country helped India in hosting so many refugees. Poor Indians chipped in by 50% increase in postal stamp price. 3 Million Bangalis were killed and half a million Bangali women were gang raped. It is Indians who need to be suspicious of the people who divided Mother India for the sake of alien ideology.Recommend

  • Ishtiaq Ahmed (author)

    It was truly amusing to read so many contradictions in just one sentence: ‘I have heard your name and that your analysis is good, but your this writing is nothing but big disappointment’. I don’t want to waste time figuring out how someone who says that my analysis is good but my writing a big disappointment. Sometimes I feel the social media is a huge liability since people who learn to wield the pen let loose their confusion and celebrate it is something profound. I would say profound confusion (Ishtiaq Ahmed, author).Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    Old tactics of side lining the main issue by dragging something else up. Since you seem to be interested in Bangladesh story then read Asoka Raina’s ‘Inside RAW.’ Perception is always greater than reality. It’s time you face the reality.Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    Read Asoka Raina’s ‘Inside RAW’ to clear your head. And you can’t move forward as long as RSS, Shiv Sena reside in your heart.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Some one who lived and some one who gave the sacrifice in terms his fathers effort does not need to find answers in a book witten for money both by writer and publisher.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Islam and Xianity uprooted natives all over the world, did genocide of the natives and ran slave trade beside rapes, loot and plunder. 80 Million Indian natives were butchered by Islam alone. Angloes caused arificial famine in Bangal which killed almost 4 million Indians.Recommend

  • SilkRoad Booksandphotos

    It is the Zionist wish to annihilate and destroy the Palestinians that is why you fascists do not give the right of return to Palestinians and commit pogroms in the Gaza concentration camp every few years.
    Jews and Muslims on the other hand lived peaceably under Ottoman Rule and came to Istanbul and Sarajevo as well as North Africa after the Spanish expulsion. However Zionist fascists are ignorant of history and are full of hate.Recommend