Following the slow-moving peace process between India and Pakistan can be a bit like watching paint dry. So the decision by the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency to attend an iftar hosted by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad this week has generated much excitement.
"Lieutenant-General Shuja Pasha was among the earliest guests to arrive at the maximum-security five-star Serena hotel. He stayed nearly 45 minutes, chit-chatting with guests," wrote Nirupama Subramanian, correspondent for The Hindu in Islamabad. "This was the first time that a serving military official, let alone the head of the country’s most important intelligence agency with a well-known dislike for India, has attended an Indian event here."
Everyone agreed it was a positive development, she wrote. “It’s a huge gesture by him,” she quoted the former ISI Director-General, Lt.-Gen. (retd.) Asad Durrani as saying. “A very positive development.” Another former soldier, Lt.-Gen. (retd.) Talat Masood, said it was an indication that India-Pakistan relations were not as bad they looked. “It is very symbolic. It means things are improving between the two countries, and there are people who want it to improve in spite of all the tough talk going on.”
“A thaw,” said Pakistan People's Party politician Aitzaz Ahsan.
Even B. Raman, formerly from India's Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), welcomed the move. Arguing in favour of a dialogue between Indian intellgence agencies and the ISI, he writes: "Whether Lt.Gen.Pasha responded to an invitation personally addressed to him or whether he represented (Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq) Kayani, who himself did not want to come, the presence of the ISI chief at the iftar reception is a significant gesture by the government of (Pakistan President Asif Ali) Zardari and has to be recognised as such. "