Terror attacks have rocked both India and Pakistan, the two nuclear neighbours more known for their enmity than friendship, in less than three weeks' time. Can there be a better opportunity for the two countries to join hands now against the menace of terrorism?
But there are more than just objective truth when it comes to India and Pakistan. Following the attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, Pakistan's former interior minister Rehman Malik accused India's Research and Analysis Wing for the attack while other hardliners linked the attack to India's Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's statement in the wake of the Pathankot attack in which he said "those who harmed us will feel the pain".
Such stands clearly make the mission of those eyeing to spoil the peace initiative between India and Pakistan a success and the two neighbours hence should refrain from falling into such traps.
Recent reports have said India and Pakistan have decided to come out from the conventional mode of diplomatic talks which will not see an issue like terrorism overshadowing other bilateral issues like Jammu and Kashmir, trade and others.
Sources said while terror will only be taken at the NSA-level talks, other issues will be addressed at foreign-secretary level talks. Experts said such an effort was made when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister of India but as in several other cases pertaining to foreign policy, the compulsion of party politics didn't allow Singh to go ahead.
A much hence depends on the governments of Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif to take forward the peace initiative between New Delhi and Islamabad and breaking up the talks at various levels so that challenges to one don't hinder the others is undoubtedly a welcome development that can change the equations between the two neighbours' relations for good.
The year 2016 offers a significant opportunity to both India and Pakistan to come closer and seal their peace initiative. Time is precious for both countries and they can't afford to let it slip without serving a purpose.
Indian & Pakistani PMs must make use of the time they have
First, both countries are now headed by two leaders who have still not run into the lame-duck period and are less burdened by the baggage of anti-incumbency.
Pakistan and India will go to elections in 2018 and 2019, respectively, which means this year is the best time for both the PMs, who want to leave a legacy behind, to deliver what South Asia has been hoping for over half a century now-a durable peace.
Improve defence infrastructure
Second, both countries need to upgrade their defence infrastructure to thwart attacks like those in Pathankot and Charsadda.
Both establishments came under serious criticism for the loopholes in their defence that led to such catastrophes.
Pakistan, particularly, has found its soft targets vulnerable to fierce terror attacks and the occurrence of Charsadda after the attack on the army school in Peshawar in December 2014 shows not much has progressed on the ground in the last 13 months.
Similarly, India just about managed to protect its strategic assets in Pathankot, something which it should have done with greater efficiency eight years after the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
India, Pak must work on a joint defence plan against terror and gradually include other South Asian nations
Third, it is high time that India and Pakistan work on a joint anti-terror plan and not indulge in a purposeless blame game.
The reasons behind the terror attacks in the two countries are different and there would be obstacles to arriving at a common conclusion on how to define and deal with the menace, but still there is ample scope for New Delhi and Islamabad to take up the cause to erect a common defence against terrorism and gradually incorporate other South Asian countries in the scheme of things.
It should have been clear by now to all quarters that terrorism is ultimately nobody's friend, no matter what ideological inclinations you have.
Not just bring but also implement strict national anti-terror rules
Fourth, to tighten things domestically, both India and Pakistan need to have a strong unitary mechanism in place to deal with terror.
The Nawaz Sharif administration set up a National Action Plan in the wake of the Peshawar attack but has it been completely backed so far in terms of action?
Similarly, India requires something like the National Counter Terrorism Centre above political differences. The national security interest of the country needs to be the prime objective and cannot be allowed to be diminished by issues of electoral importance.
Stop playing politics with foreign policy
Fifth, the tendency to play politics with foreign policy must stop.
The political class of both countries find it convenient to make sensational statements on issues concerning national security to steal the headlines and attract a temporary applause but such act does enough harm to the end result, which is permanent peace.
The enemies of peace between India and Pakistan find an ally in the political class which easily falls into their trap and undo all the hard work in a few moments.
Addressing the Afghanistan problem
Sixth, for India and Pakistan to ensure peace between them now, must address the Afghanistan problem.
Neither of these two countries can tackle the Afghan issue alone (Pakistan for strategic and India for geographical reasons) nor they can ignore it for once the West withdraws from the war-ravaged country, the situation there will be too risky to be left void.
Pakistan needs to fill up the void there just like it had done with the US help after the Soviets had moved out in the late 1980s, but with a constructive purpose.
Its Taliban policy has backfired and is under a real test.
India and Pakistan need to cooperate in Afghanistan if they want the challenge of terrorism not multiplying.
New Delhi and Islamabad can't afford to see each other with suspicious eyes when it comes to Afghanistan. It is good now that Kabul is part of the Saarc now and the later regional mechanism should now aim an added objective of bringing back peace in Afghanistan, among other things.