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Birthday diplomacy

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  27 Dec 2015 12:00 AM GMT

Once in a proverbial blue moon, the ice in the cold, frequently belligerent relations between India and Pakistan gets broken, raising hopes all around. Prime Minister rendra Modi’s sudden stopover at Lahore to greet his Pakistani counterpart waz Sharif on his birthday came fittingly on Christmas Day, which this year had a ‘Full Cold Moon’ after 38 years. In the midst of his Afghanistan visit, Modi reportedly telephoned Sharif from Kabul on Friday to extend birthday greetings, and the latter then asked him to break his Kabul-Delhi journey in Lahore. Modi then sought an invitation, Sharif gave him one, the two leaders met and hugged, then took a helicopter ride to Sharif’s ancestral residence where his grand-daughter was getting married. Amidst all this, the two premiers with aides in tow are said to have discussed confidence building measures and how to take talks forward. The suddenness of Modi’s unscheduled visit seems to have stunned his supporters, critics and political observers alike. Praising Modi for his ‘vision, imagition and courage’ in breaking the shackles of diplomatic protocol, the BJP has dubbed his visit a ‘transformative moment in the subcontinent’. Pointing out that Sharif was among the leaders of neighbouring countries who had attended the NDA government’s swearing in, Home minister Rajth Singh commented that such an invitation then was ‘a part of our Indian culture’ and what Modi has done now is ‘innovative’ diplomacy. While the CPI has unequivocally welcomed Modi’s initiative, the CPI(M) has struck a caveat by maintaining that Indo-Pak talks should move ahead from such ‘VIP diplomacy to people-to-people contact’. The JD(U) has professed ‘surprise’ at Modi meeting Sharif in Lahore while Indian soldiers are still getting killed at the border. The Aam Admi Party has asked whether Pakistan-backed terrorism has stopped to give rise to ‘so much friendship’. As for the Congress, it’s reaction too has been predictable. Denouncing Modi for ‘adventurism’ and keeping parliament and country in the dark about his visit, the Congress has warned that this will impact upon the country’s security as there has been ‘no change in the ground situation’. However, this is the same party whose two senior leaders Mani Shankar Aiyar and Salman Khurshid recently aired opinions to the effect that if Islamabad wants to put relations back on even keel with New Delhi, the Modi government must be thrown out and the Congress brought back to power! While most political observers believe Modi’s gesture will impart the much needed ease and spontaneity to future talks, the mood in Kashmir valley has been upbeat with Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, tiol Conference chief Omar Abdullah, Hurriyat leaders and the man in the street all praising the Prime Minister for doing something none of his predecessors had done before. Within Pakistan, Modi’s initiative has been broadly welcomed across the political spectrum, including the Pakistan Peoples Party and Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf. Back in 1987 at the height of tensions due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the then Pakistan president General Zia ul-Haq chose to attend a Indo-Pak test match at Jaipur - a visit that was swiftly dubbed ‘cricket diplomacy’. Eighteen years later in April 2005, General Pervez Musharraf came calling to watch India and Pakistan play cricket in Delhi; and then in 2011, Dr Manmohan Singh invited his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to watch the 2011 Cricket World Cup semifil match between the two countries at Mohali. These initiatives did play a large part in cooling tensions during those times, but there was no follow up to capitalise on the thaw in relations. rendra Modi’s ‘birthday diplomacy’ now needs to be followed up consistently through hard-headed talks in congenial atmosphere at many levels. There have been breaks in the ice before — what the two nuclear armed neighbours with a fraught history need is to work for a lasting summer.

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