Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in Islamabad | Asad Zaidi/Bloomberg
Pakistan PM Imran Khan in Islamabad | File photo: Asad Zaidi | Bloomberg
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Narendra Modi standing next to Imran Khan at a SAARC summit in Islamabad for a photo-op will be nothing short of a diplomatic coup.

With one phone call to Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown the stuff powerful leaders are made up of. Less than 10 months before he stakes his claim to re-election, Modi has once again thrown down the gauntlet for peace with Pakistan.

All the sound and fury about “eenth ka jawaab pathar se” vis-à-vis Pakistan, all the eye-for-an-eye comments and teaching Pakistan a lesson with the 2016 surgical strikes, all the patronising remarks about Imran Khan by sundry BJP ministers like R.K. Singh were, in one blow, thrown out of the window. Just like that.

Make no mistake. This is a redux of 2015 when the Prime Minister made that high-profile visit to Lahore to attend the wedding of then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s grand-daughter.

Perhaps you could say, with this gesture, the PM wants to desperately be seen as yet another Atal Bihari Vajpayee – it would be fantastic for the subcontinent if that was true. But we are not there yet. Not by a long shot.

First of all, this is just a phone call. Second, Modi hasn’t made any conciliatory gestures towards Kashmir, an essential ingredient in anyone hoping to settle Pakistan. In fact, he has done quite the opposite by withdrawing support from his own coalition government, thereby raising the temperature of the ongoing crisis in that crisis-ridden state.

Also read: 5 reasons why Imran Khan can offer only empty talks & no resolution on Kashmir

Still, let’s give the devil its due. Modi, by picking up the phone and calling Pakistan’s prime minister-elect, is doing four things: He is responding to Imran’s early remarks last week that if “India took one step towards peace and reconciliation, he would take two.”

Modi has taken one step. Now, let’s wait for Imran to reciprocate.

Second, Modi is indicating with his phone call that he is willing to leash the anti-Pakistani trolls. (The anti-Muslim trolls will stay because they are his insurance, in case anything goes wrong.) This also shows that he will not tolerate anyone coming in the way of the possibility that he may go down in history as the man who made peace with his troublesome neighbour.

Not even Atal Bihari Vajpayee could do that. Modi now has a shot at it. Will he succeed?

Third, the Prime Minister is indicating that he finally understands what it means to be a world leader. Modi, by far, has been the most peripatetic PM India has seen, at least since I.K. Gujral in the mid-1990s (in fact, Gujral used to travel so much, media headlines had routinely begun to say, ‘Welcome back, prime minister’).

There is no way the PM, whose political instincts are as sharp as a Japanese Aritsugu knife, has not picked up from the several leaders he routinely embraces that they want him to “fix his neighbourhood first”.

How can he yearn to be part of the Big Boys Club (and a couple of women too), the Trump-Putin-Merkel-May-Shinzo Abe combine may say to him, if India is going to get routinely buoyed down by its own fractious neighbours? How can India claim to be the country that will stare down China, that aspiring World Number One power, if Modi ji can’t find a way to manage China’s “all-weather friend” Pakistan?

Fourth, with his phone call to Imran, the PM is saying that all bets are back on. And, that he is even willing to come to Islamabad for the SAARC summit that should be held before the year is out.

Imagine the photo-op, of Modi standing next to Imran. If that’s not the diplomatic equivalent of steroids with a cherry on top, then I don’t know what is.

That, of course, is a huge carrot. If India doesn’t go to the SAARC summit, it will be postponed yet again, for the second year. The rules are that the summit cannot be held even if one country opts out for one reason or another.

Imagine the photo-op, of Modi standing next to Imran. If that’s not the diplomatic equivalent of steroids with a cherry on top, then I don’t know what is.

The morning after the phone call though, it’s important to take a deep breath. It’s clear that Modi’s call has been made with the full understanding that Imran had the huge support of the “miltestablishment”, as the military and intelligence agencies are fondly called in Pakistan, to win his election, but there’s more.

Also read: Here’s why Imran Khan is not Pakistan’s Arvind Kejriwal

Imran couldn’t have done as well as he did if he didn’t have a real popularity surge. Fact is that he has done incredibly well in Punjab province as well, winning only a few seats less than Nawaz Sharif-Shehbaz Sharif’s PML-N.

It may be true that Shehbaz, who was supposed to have carried on the big fight with his brother and niece in jail, has capitulated completely in front of the army. The PML-N is leaderless today, and it shows.

The Modi government has decided that Imran is the man of the hour. In the coming weeks and months, new initiatives are likely – perhaps, some visas and reopening of trade. Since the army must get on board for any India-related policy, they will have to give in if Imran pushes them.

The big question, as always, is and will be Kashmir. How are Modi and Imran expected to deal with this 71-year-old conundrum?

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Right now, it’s important to celebrate Modi’s bid for peace in the subcontinent. The time to worry will come. Today belongs to the man who lives on Lok Kalyan Marg, in the heart of Delhi.

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5 Comments Share Your Views


  1. This is not sensible reporting, India should grow up. There are two ways now to go one is bilateral trade and peace for our next generation .the other is war . Pm Modi should make it clear this time war or Peace ? We have promised our APS Children we will give them best pakistan ever. otherwise we were not ever weak for india . If we die u will die, if we live u will live simple as that ..

  2. Just a courtesy phone call by Modi and Jyotis of the pseudo secular left aman kee asha brigade are going overboard and crazy. Modi must continue the current policy of having nothing to do with Pak until its military stops terrorism and keeps off Kashmir. Foreign and defence policy of Pakistan is managed by its military establishment and not by civilian government. If at all we are talking to anyone, we ought to talk to them first and then to the civilian government. Until this aspect is clearly understood, hopefully Modi does not again do a Lahore or Peshawar to be hit back by subsequent vicious terrorist attacks. After accepting this base position, Modi can do whatever else as a part of diplomatic nicety, political oneupmanship, scoring browny points with Congress etc.

  3. The article is trying to decipher too much into the phone call, and casting aspersions on the intentions. Also, I have objections on ridiculing comment for PM ” To give Devil its due”. The author may not like PM but has no right to use a negative phrase like this. I hope Print editorial do a sanity check of this.

  4. VP Naidu representing India at PM Imran Khan’s inauguration would be an auspicious start to what the columnist would call a Reset to Pakistan, although it is early days. Prime Minister attending the SAARC summit in Islamabad would even otherwise be the right thing to do. South Asia’s regional forum should not be held hostage to the vicissitudes of the India – Pakistan relationship. Recent common membership of the SCO shows the two countries can find occasions to work together, despite major issues remaining unresolved. 2. As the shadows lengthen over the first term, there is perhaps a growing realisation that opportunities have been missed, more could have been achieved. Much was made of the Pakistani High Commissioner meeting the Hurriyat, a long established ritual. Personally I don’t think we have gained anything by discontinuing the bilateral dialogue, always tentative and seldom productive. The effort to “ isolate “ Pakistan, including naming and shaming it in global fora, has run its course. It advertises to the world, as the column notes, that we cannot handle a neighbour the size of Uttar Pradesh. 3. Meaningful progress with Pakistan will take time. It could start from the Indian side after the general election. However, there is no need for two neighbours who have so much in common to be constantly in a state of undeclared war. With the elephant of Kashmir in the room, it is still possible to live more peaceably together.


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