IT was a startling assault, the first in over a decade, in Indian Punjab and in an area intrinsically linked to the bitterness of Partition and a more recent fraught communal history.
Yet, the terrorist attack in Gurdaspur — just a short distance from the working boundary and the Line of Control — almost immediately became about Pakistan and the ever-present tensions between the two countries.
There was no evidence offered; indeed, even the identity of the terrorists, one of whom is believed to have been captured alive, was not known by the time the Indian media and some — though fortunately, only some — Indian officials began to blame Pakistan and the ISI here.
Of course, if caution and common sense do not prevail often enough in India, neither do they in Pakistan.
As the Indian news cycle was dominated by coverage of the 12-hour-long stand-off in Gurdaspur and shrill accusations against Pakistan, the ISPR here chose to release footage recorded by an allegedly Indian drone — really just a commercially available so-called quadcopter with a camera — that had been shot down by the Pakistani border forces.
It was left to the Foreign Office to issue a condemnation of the Gurdaspur attack and to express sympathy for the victims and their families.
A familiar tale, then: India blames Pakistan for any terrorist attack on its soil, even before anyone on the ground could possibly know who was behind the attack and for what reason; the Pakistani state zeroes in on Indian military escalations along the Working Boundary and LoC to emphasise that the Indian state is not interested in peace.
Already, the prime ministerial meeting in Ufa, Russia, appears to have been eclipsed. The Ufa joint statement though zeroed in on the major — and most immediate — impediment to the eventual normalisation of ties: the terror threat in the region and the lack of coordination between Pakistan and India when it comes to identifying and eliminating the threats wherever they may be found.
Consider if the National Security Advisers of the two countries had already met, as had the DG Pakistan Rangers and the DG BSF and the DGMOs of India and Pakistan too. Consider also if they had worked out an arrangement for the sharing of time-sensitive intelligence and had come to an understanding about how to address real-time incidents along the Working Boundary and the LoC.
In that scenario, perhaps some of the public mistrust on both sides of the border would have been curbed, leading to more sensible, less reactionary responses in India and the Pakistani establishment seeking to help immediately rather than focus on something else altogether.
But all is not lost yet. As the facts from Gurdaspur emerge in the days ahead, Pakistan could extend its full cooperation in the investigation — if the facts do point to a role in Gurdaspur of elements operating from Pakistani soil.
Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2015