1 April 2015: It is not often that Pakistan’s high commissioner to this country supports India’s rise. Abdul Basit did this surprisingly and rather eloquently on Monday at an Assocham meeting which the papers in their wisdom buried on the inside pages. It would represent a structural shift in Pakistan’s assessment of and attitude towards India’s economic growth although the view of the Pakistan army still remains opaque and potentially obstructive.

“We in South Asia do believe,” Basit asserted at the industry chamber meeting in the national capital, “that India does have a wherewithal and resolve to step to the plate and ensure that it achieves its economic goals because if India rises we are confident the entire region will rise with India.” This is altogether a handsome subscription of faith in India’s growth story and its unqualified acceptance to do good for South Asia. What begets the change?

It concerns two prime ministers and one perhaps more than the other. It is no surprise that one of them is Narendra Modi and the other Nawaz Sharief of Pakistan. Nawaz Sharief is a businessman and not as good a politician as Asif Zardari, the previous President. A modern head of government needs to combine the best of the politician and intuitive reformist and Pakistan would need to draw on the strengths of Narendra Modi in this area. With the Nawaz Sharief regime in Pakistan, this seems to have happened.

Nawaz Sharief was on excellent terms with the first National Democratic Alliance Prime Minister, A. B. Vajpayee, but was in no position to forestall the Kargil War provoked by the Pakistan army. Overthrown in a coup he returned from long exile in Saudi Arabia and helped prop the Zardari dispensation who gracefully made way for Nawaz Sharief’s government in the subsequent election where the Pakistan army stayed neutral.

Relations with India bloomed when Sharief attended Modi’s inauguration but fell into the old trap over procedures to move ahead on Kashmir with Pakistan adamant on including the Hurriyat in negotiations without locus. Last month the new Indian Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar, met Sharief as part of the “SAARC yatra” which also marked the resumption of bilateral ties. Abdul Basit’s glowing reference to India’s rise flows in that current.

All the same it marks an extraordinary departure for the appreciative allusion to rising India. Democratic and peaceful rise on the scale of India is rare in modern history and the closest parallel may be the United States which chose isolationalism and exceptionalism as its guiding foreign policy principles in between occasional conflicts it was compelled to wage or join such as against imperial Spain and Germany till the breakout emergence at the end of World War II. India has no war aims in the present or future other than from contingencies arising in the defence of national territories and something of this truth must have convinced Sharief with -- as it appears -- generous prodding from China.

The riddle is the Pakistan army. Its internal assessment no more ranks India as the primary threat which comes from Taliban, Islamic State and sectarian terrorism and the spectre of stolen Pakistani nukes unleashing a jihadi Armageddon. But the Indian “threat” is a useful bogey to keep the Pakistan military well-endowed and over-armed with as much or more authoritative weight than the elected Federal government, the Legislature and the independent judiciary. Peace with India and Pakistan’s complicity in India’s rise would on face value not appeal to Pakistan army hawks and indeed anger them against the government unless interested foreign powers have calmed the generals and staunched their fears.

Equally it is possible that Prime Minister Narendra Modi magically has moved Nawaz Sharief to join the Indian growth story and the Pakistani premier has brought the army on board. Some or all of this should have happened else a seasoned diplomat like Abdul Basit would not have embraced “India’s rise”. Nevertheless these are early days. Between India and Pakistan, proverbially speaking, there’s many a slip ’twixt cup and lip.

But the hope that the Pakistan high commissioner has raised from his low-key statement at an industry gathering is audacious. Such fulsome support to India’s rise has never come at this high level of Pakistani officialdom which should reflect Islamabad’s changed line. If it holds the future of SAARC economic cooperation would reinvigorate South Asia. India has enough and more motor force to raise the tide for the region.