While addressing a joint press conference in Islambad with Pakistan’s Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond urged Pakistan and India to not allow “non-state actors” and other pressure groups to derail the peace process. The British foreign secretary welcomed Pakistan’s initiative in holding investigations into the Pathankot airbase attack and hoped that the country would quickly make progress in going after the Pakistan-based militant groups being blamed for masterminding the attack. He underlined the importance of a positive relationship between the two neighbours as critical to regional peace and security. He hoped that diplomatic relations would be fully restored in the near future and that the stalled foreign secretary level talks would finally place. Hammond suggested that India and Pakistan should begin the process of engagement without aiming to resolve all issues at once, i.e. he did not believe in the wisdom of making discussing the Kashmir issue a “pre-condition” for talks. Apart from this, Hammond saluted Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and called the country a “role model” for other states also embroiled in a battle with extremism.
Prior to the Pathankot incident in early January, Pakistan and India were rapidly approaching a thawing of relations due to a series of diplomatic breakthroughs over the month of December 2015, but the airbase attack threw cold water all over those developments. However, given the suspiciously timed nature of the attack, officials on both sides recognised Pathankot for the trap and deliberate spoiler that it was, a pragmatic approach has prevented all hope of reconciliation from being lost. Despite the hiccup of India’s defence minister recent careless speculation in parliament that an attack of this nature could not have happened without support from elements within the Pakistan state, there has been unusual amount of understanding and cooperation between the two states to ensure tensions are not exacerbated. While India has largely avoided finger-pointing, Pakistan’s drive to investigate and go after militant organisations like the Jaish-e-Muhammad in the aftermath of a cross-border attack is almost unprecedentedly sincere. Even before Hammond’s call, there has been an evident shift in the outlook of both countries. These two developments show the long-awaited maturity and practicality that has permeated in the foreign policy approach of the two countries instead of the usual hawkish bluster. With the recent news of Pakistan sharing intelligence reports on possible militant infiltrations of the Indian border, the trend of increasing cooperation is palpable. This kind of cooperation and sharing of intelligence is going to be extremely critical in the fight to root militancy, and it is hoped that this progress is built upon and trust is restored so that tensions can begin to subside. It is about time that the two states finally realise what has been painfully obvious for around two decades: war between two nuclear-armed states is not feasible, and diplomacy and cooperation is the only way forward for both countries to break the impasse.