Modi, Sharif move the needle on talks: Pak PM's visit raises hopes of a thaw in ties | india | Hindustan Times
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Modi, Sharif move the needle on talks: Pak PM's visit raises hopes of a thaw in ties

india Updated: May 28, 2014 02:36 IST
HT Correspondent
Narendra Modi


Agreeing that their foreign secretaries will meet soon to decide how to take their peace talks forward is an encouraging outcome from Tuesday's meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif.

For the past year and half, relations between the nuclear-armed rivals have remained in a diplomatic deep freeze because former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lacked political capital to push ties, weakened as his government was at home from graft charges and economic mismanagement.

But this month's huge election victory gave Modi the political room to pull off a diplomatic blockbuster - an unprecedented invitation to the leaders of South Asia, including Sharif, to his own inauguration as India's 15th Prime Minister. The move proved as pleasantly surprising as helping in raising hopes of a thaw in ties.

In one stroke, not only did he manage to temper his image of a strident nationalist on issues of national security, especially when it came to Pakistan, but also strengthened the hand of Sharif's civilian government in dealing with New Delhi.

Yet the two were smart enough to go beyond the visible bonhomie of the occasion and make their brief dialogue as substantive as possible, for now.

While Modi raised core issues such as the demand that Pakistan speed up the 26/11 Mumbai attack trial and stop militants from using its soil to attack India, Sharif reiterated that his government was ready to discuss "all issues", the latter a euphemism to mean the dispute over Kashmir.

But not much should be made of such tough lines, for neither can afford to be seen back home as making any concessions at this point. The subtext of Modi's diplomatically dextrous move is crucial: That he is keen to resume the peace dialogue with Pakistan, possibly under a new structure unburdened from past legacies.

Quite logically, the two leaders, both seen as pro-business, have decided to make trade and investment the motor for change in bilateral ties before going for, what former Pakistan ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman calls, broader course correction and resumption of full spectrum peace dialogue.

It is almost a diplomatic maxim that foreign policy templates do not change hugely under new governments. What does is response mechanism.

As realists both Modi and Sharif probably do not expect any immediate breakthrough but only incremental progress, provided the political situation does not change in Pakistan and India does not see another attack by Pakistan-based militants.

Any change and all bets on India-Pakistan relations will be off. Again.