Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the Indian Prime Minister on Tuesday in an effort to contain any escalation in bitterness that might occur in the wake of the Pathankot assault by terrorists on a prime Indian Air Force base. This is a helpful step. Pointless rhetoric can worsen matters in a delicate situation.
The Pakistan leader’s response should have the effect of calming immediate anxieties in India, and give Mr Modi some relief from the ultra-nationalist fulminations of his own party’s rank and file. Mr Sharif’s call came when he was on an official visit to Colombo. He had clearly grasped the urgency of the situation. This speaks of his good sense.
India and Pakistan should both appreciate that had an Indian plane been damaged, national tempers would be running high, and there would be greater pressure on the Modi government for military retribution. Providentially, that did not happen. (Some reports hint that the fighter jets and the assault helicopters parked at the IAF station in Pathankot had been removed from there in light of early intelligence inputs. If true, that is just as well.)
The Pakistan Prime Minister’s phone call was preceded by a conversation between the national security advisers of the two countries in the course of which the Indian NSA offered his counterpart some “actionable” information, such as telephone numbers in Pakistan called by the terrorists. Mr Modi has asked Mr Sharif to move urgently against the individuals and organisations in his country responsible for the Pathankot attack.
The Pakistan leader has promised to follow up on the “leads” offered by India. But the million dollar question is whether he can effectively deliver, especially since it is now deemed more than likely that the ISI, which is a branch of the Pakistan Army, was acting behind the scenes. How much elbow room Mr Nawaz Sharif has in dealing with his Army will become clear from the way he is able to proceed on Mr Modi’s request. The continuation of the current round of diplomatic processes — the foreign secretaries’ talks in mid-January, for instance — initiated by India may depend crucially on this.
Fudging by Pakistan won’t do. It won’t do, for instance, to make formal noises and catch some minor fry from an extremist outfit to assuage Indian feelings. Islamabad must appreciate that it needs to convince the Indians that it is serious, not seek to fob India off with tongue-clucking and some perfunctory investigation.
Whatever the immediate Pakistani response, India needs to work on how to raise the costs for Pakistan if its citizens — even if they are non-state actors — engage in high-risk terrorism play that affects us adversely. Islamabad must be made to understand that there will be consequences if its actions are not genuine.
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