That there would be an attempt to undermine the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan was never in doubt, and with meetings at foreign secretary level just a fortnight away, an Indian air base came under attack on January 2. After initial reports that the base had been cleared of the attackers, it came to light that the assault continued the following day as well. Men dressed in Indian Army uniform are reported to have entered the Pathankot air base close to the Pakistan border. They opened indiscriminate fire, killing at least seven Indian soldiers as they battled with the security forces. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, but Indian sources are suggesting that the attack may have been carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammad.
With both countries gearing up for their most meaningful dialogue in decades, the attack could not have come at a worse time. It is now for the two governments to hold their nerve and thus far this appears to be the case. The Indian response is more muted than in the past and Pakistan has been quick to condemn the attack. Incidents such as this have previously poisoned the waters making dialogue next to impossible; but that does not have to happen and although the atmospherics of the forthcoming talks will inevitably be affected, their cancellation is not yet being mooted. That there are groups for whom all talk of peace is anathema is undeniable, and they will do all they can to halt the process. This cannot have been an unexpected attack and there will have been contingency planning for such an eventuality. For purely domestic political reasons, there will be a ramping-up of anti-Pakistan rhetoric by some in India, and it is for the Indian government to rein in those on that side of the border who are not inclined towards peace either. Both governments are to a degree in uncharted territory, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not had the easiest of rides since his ‘surprise’ visit to see his Pakistani counterpart. At the same time, if the attack can be conclusively linked to a Pakistan-based group, the authorities here must also act decisively against such nefarious elements. Cool heads must prevail, and the talks must proceed.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2016.