To achieve the impossible, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought,” wrote a famous novelist. To that end, Prime Minister > Narendra Modi’s unannounced visit to Kabul and surprise stopover in Lahore is certainly as unthinkable as it is a transformational moment for India. While several Indian Prime Ministers have attempted to turn ties with Pakistan into something more neighbourly, nothing defines good neighbours more than Mr. Modi’s “dropping in” for tea to wish his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on his birthday and to give his good wishes for his grand-daughter’s wedding. With the two visits on Christmas day, bringing together India’s interest in engaging both Afghanistan and Pakistan, he has also reclaimed the ‘SAARC moment’ of his swearing-in ceremony in 2014, which many had called a masterstroke at the time. What is perhaps the most surprising is not just that Mr. Modi decided to make the stops, but that they come at the end of a year when relations with both Afghanistan, over talks with the Taliban, and Pakistan, over LoC firing and the NSA talks, were very troubled. Mr. Modi has ensured that a curtain has been drawn on those troubles, and a new beginning will be made in the new year. Not just that, by making the journey from Kabul to Lahore, he has transformed Afghanistan from a battlefield between India and Pakistan into a facilitator of good relations. The road ahead is certainly perilous. Relations with Pakistan have often seen setbacks far worse than the strides in ties. The Kargil war followed just such a bold initiative by Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the Lahore bus, and Manmohan Singh’s sustained talks on Kashmir with President Musharraf, who he invited for a cricket match to India to restart talks, went awry after a series of attacks. However, if Mr. Modi were to dwell only on those perils, there would be no way of moving forward, and he has been wise to take the high road to peace over the low road of discordant ties with Pakistan. The two foreign secretaries should build on this breakthrough at their meeting scheduled for mid-January.
If Mr. Modi’s move towards Pakistan represents a maturing and progression of his position, then the Congress party’s attack on the Lahore visit represents a churlish regression in its position. It is surprising that the main opposition party has chosen to criticise Mr. Modi for everything its own Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, risked so much for during his tenure. In 2007, many were aghast when Dr. Singh said he dreamed of a time he could have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. With a few modifications, Mr. Modi, who is now the biggest beneficiary of the previous government’s sagacious Pakistan policy, has achieved that dream, in reverse.