By Ruwa Shah
New Delhi: Strategic experts on Saturday welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic, surprise visit to Pakistan as a major step aimed at rebuilding the derailed bilateral peace process.
Former diplomats and retired generals who have dealt with Pakistan said Modi’s dramatic gesture of flying to Lahore from Afghanistan on Friday and meeting his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif was a good beginning.
“The visit was a necessary step and a goodwill gesture,” Panak Ranjan Chakravarty, a former secretary in the external affairs ministry, told IANS.
General Ved Prakash Malik, a former Indian Army chief, agreed.
“It is an engagement strategy which will help to reach the end of our national interest. To that extent, it is a good move,” the general said.
“I think it has created a conducive atmosphere for both India and Pakistan to move towards resolution of substantial issues.”
Barring the Congress which questioned the suddenness of Modi’s move, the Indian leader’s two-hour halt in Lahore on his way home from Kabul has been widely welcomed.
Modi broke the ice by telephoning Sharif from Kabul on Friday to extend him birthday greetings.
Indian officials let it be known that Sharif had asked him to break his Kabul-Delhi journey in Lahore. Pakistani officials said Modi sought an invite — and Sharif gave him one and proved a gracious host.
Modi then flew into Lahore, hugged Sharif, and the two leaders took a helicopter to Sharif’s ancestral residence at Raiwind where they sipped Kashmiri tea and discussed confidence building issues.
A Pakistani report on Saturday said they discussed Kashmir too.
Gen. Malik said cross-border terrorism, border tensions and Jammu and Kashmir were the main issues plaguing India-Pakistan ties, which have seen ups and downs in recent years.
“Modi’s visit to Lahore has created hope and it indicates his style of diplomacy,” Malik told IANS.
Modi became the fourth Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan — and the first in 11 years. Sharif came to New Delhi when Modi took oath last year.
Diplomatic expert C. Raja Mohan felt that after creating a diplomatic opening with Pakistan in recent weeks, Modi had decided to accelerate the pace of the engagement with Islamabad.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not reacted to Modi’s initiative but its leader Subramanian Swamy said Modi should have a free hand on Pakistan.