When India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped in to visit Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over the holidays, there were some who hoped that a new era in India-Pakistan relations was in the cards.
That optimism died as quickly as most New Year’s Resolutions when four gunmen attacked an Indian air force base (called Pathankot) near the Line of Control between the two South Asian rivals in disputed Kashmir. Kashmir is a Muslim majority province claimed by both countries ever since the partition of British India into Muslim and Hindu states in 1947. For many Pakistanis, the loss of the most fertile and populous districts of Kashmir is an injustice that must be avenged. For many Indians, giving up a strategically important region that has been defended in three wars would be madness.
The latest eruption of violence, which nobody in either country thinks would be possible without continuing support by parts of the Pakistani security apparatus, isn’t all that dramatic in itself. The intended target was probably not the air base at all; those who organized and supported the strike were aiming to scotch any prospect that Indo-Pakistani relations would actually improve.
Pakistan’s civilian government has very little influence over the military; relations with India are one of the subjects that the military considers too important to be left to the country’s civilian politicians. The attack at Pathankot air base looks like a message from the people who actually run the serious bits of Pakistani foreign policy that no change in the long standoff with India will be allowed.