Both India and Pakistan appear keen not to undo the positive impact of the Lahore visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and allow the Pathankot terror incident to derail the dialogue process, as it nearly threatened to do.
Both sides, after mutual consultation, have agreed to reschedule the foreign secretary-level talks, between India&’s S Jaishankar and Pakistan&’s Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, to “the very near future”, according to a statement by India&’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Vikas Swarup on Thursday.
India has welcomed the Pakistani action against the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the terror group suspected to be behind the audacious terror attack on the Pathankot Indian Air Force base in Punjab on January 2 that led to the deaths of seven Indian security personnel.
What appears to have convinced India about the Pakistani action in cracking down on the JeM and its cadres is the fact that a high-level meeting on Pathankot chaired by Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday had on board the top civilian and military leaders. They included Army chief Raheel Sharif, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, PM’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
The thinking in India is the fact that Pakistan&’s current National Security Adviser (NSA), Nissar Janjua, happens to be a former senior Army officer, has helped bridge the divide between the civilian and military leadership in Pakistan on its stance on India.
Pakistan has also moved fast in announcing a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the Pathankot attack, and proposed sending it to India. India has welcomed the move and said its intelligence agencies will cooperate with the Pakistani team on Pathankot.
Nawaz Sharif, who has chaired three meetings on the Pathankot incident so far, appears keen on not allowing the Lahore meeting advantage to be frittered away.
India also seems keen on not quibbling over details on the Pakistani action on the JeM – on whether JeM chief Masood Azhar was arrested or detained, or where the terror chief has been kept.
India is looking at the action against the JeM cadres as a positive first step by Pakistan, and wants to give an encouraging response, sources said.
Both Indian and Pakistani NSAs, Ajit Doval and Nissar Janjua, have been in touch daily on the Pathankot issue. A meeting between them is not yet scheduled.
There is also a sense in India that the Pathankot attack was in the planning much before Modi visited Lahore, as an operation of that scale, with six terrorists moving into India with complete planning and equipped for a long haul, could not have been done in days. The attack could have been hastened after Modi&’s visit, they feel, in order to derail the talks and to give a bitter spike to the new warmth in relations.
PM Sharif had spoken to PM Modi last week to assure prompt action on Pathankot.
The decision to defer the FS talks also comes from the desire on both sides not to allow the Pathankot incident to cast a shadow on the talks, which would see both India and Pakistan draw up the modalities for the resumption of dialogue.
The swiftness of the Pakistani action on Pathankot appears to have given India some hope that matters could turn out differently than post 26/11 when Pakistan dragged its feet on the terror investigations.