On September 23, 2016, in his first public address after the Uri attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a distinction between elements within Pakistan that support terrorism and anti-India activities, and its common people. He called on the people of Pakistan to wage war on poverty and under-development alongside their Indian counterparts, and pressure their government to adopt a more peaceful path. The spirit of magnanimity displayed by the PM in that moment has been belied now by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) when it chose to “advise” a Delhi-based NGO to send back students and teachers from the Lahore Grammar School, on a goodwill visit to interact with their Indian counterparts. Reportedly, in light of the “inhuman and brutal” mutilation of Indian security personnel along the Line of Control (LoC) by Pakistani soldiers, the MEA felt it was not an “appropriate time” for such a visit. In fact, it is at difficult times like this that gestures of goodwill between young people from both countries should be seen to be more significant.
The MEA’s advisory is even more difficult to understand given the precedent set by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. In the wake of the “surgical strikes” by India across the LoC in September last year, the minister encouraged a group of Pakistani students to remain in Chandigarh for a conference they were attending in the city and ensured their safe return. That was a reaction that behoves a country of India’s size and values. Yet, just months later, the MEA seems to have forgotten that India’s engagement with Pakistan goes far beyond the exchanges along the LoC. Rather than its minister, it seems to be following the example of the Indian Motion Pictures Producers Association, which petulantly banned performers and technicians from Pakistan working in the Mumbai film industry last year.
The beheading of Indian soldiers has generated understandable anger and outrage. The army and the government of India have taken it up with the highest levels in Pakistan. But the blunders of the Pakistani establishment cannot allow the MEA, and the government, to forget that dialogue is the only way out. To keep that possibility alive, engagement with Pakistan must be layered and continuous. Initiatives like the student exchange that was abruptly called off ensure that the people of both countries continue to speak even when governments trade accusations. The students of the Lahore Grammar School had been writing to their friends in India for a year, and were eager to meet. For future’s sake, they should have been allowed to do so.

Source : Childish
Courtesy : Indian Express – Editorials


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