IN the midst of jingoism and false bravado, it can be difficult to remain restrained, sensible — and diplomatic.
But despite New Delhi’s excessive brinkmanship and emotional calls within Pakistan to respond in the same manner, the Foreign Office continues to hew to a measured and dialogue-driven approach towards India.
So not only is the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, set to visit Amritsar next week for a Heart of Asia conference, but Pakistan’s high commissioner to India Abdul Basit has let it be known that the foreign adviser’s schedule is flexible and that if bilateral talks are made a possibility, Mr Aziz could extend his daylong trip if necessary.
In continuing to keep the door to dialogue open in the face of blatant rejection by India and somewhat strong opposition at home, the government is doing the politically difficult but diplomatically necessary thing.
What remains to be seen is how India reacts. The signs are not good at the moment, but the possibility of a surprise change in attitude should not be ruled out.
Unhappily, India seems to be more in a mood to test Pakistan’s resolve and to try and find chinks in its diplomatic armour internationally.
After Prime Minister Narendra Modi declined to attend a heads of government Saarc summit in Islamabad, the Indian diplomatic machine went into overdrive to play up other withdrawals from the summit and suggest that Pakistan is isolated regionally.
But that is not the case and perhaps India should consider that it has drifted further away from its original goals.
Indeed, given India’s long-standing demand for a completion of the 2008 Mumbai attacks-related investigation and trials in Pakistan and the progress that was made on the Pathankot probe earlier this year, it ought to be apparent that slamming the door shut on dialogue will see little progress even in areas where both sides have long pledged to cooperate.
The Heart of Asia conference would be a welcome forum in which to pick up the threads of bilateral dialogue because security, economic and political cooperation in the region are at its core objectives, while Afghanistan is a country that Pakistan and India need to have an open dialogue about.
While Mr Modi has shown alacrity in trying to whip up domestic support for electoral purposes, he has proven himself to be an unexpectedly positive risk-taker externally. After all, it was last Christmas that the Indian prime minister briefly stopped in Lahore on his way back to New Delhi from Kabul.
A handshake with a visiting senior Pakistani official should not be impossible a mere 11 months later.
Arguably, given Mr Modi’s own hawkish bent, now is the time for another opening: if Mr Modi believes the Pakistani military dictates India policy, then why not see what a new chief has in mind first?
Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2016