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Pakistan's PM to Attend Modi's Inauguration—If the Military Lets Him

Many in both Pakistan and India feared that an already-fractured relationship would worsen after the Hindu-nationalist BJP party triumphed in the Indian elections. Thus it came as a surprise when Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi invited Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration in Delhi. The Guardian reports:

Sharif, who won elections last year to become Pakistan’s prime minister for the third time, is among eight leaders of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) invited to attend Modi’s swearing in next Monday.

“It’s an important gesture … as the largest country in the region, India should be reaching out to its neighbours. This is a very accident-prone relationship, but very intimate too on another level. We are cousins in a very real sense,” said Raja C Mohan, one of India’s most respected foreign affairs analysts.

Modi’s willingness to engage with Pakistan even before he takes over is very welcome. And there have been thaws in the India-Pakistan relationship before when the BJP held power. The last BJP Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, made a historic visit to Pakistan in 1999 before Pakistan’s army chief (and soon to be dictator) Pervez Musharraf launched a disastrous military assault in the disputed state of Kashmir.

If only Sharif could reciprocate! At the time of writing, it is still unclear whether Sharif will actually go to the ceremony. That decision, it seems, lies with Pakistan’s powerful military. Sharif made a bold promise to improve relations with India during his campaign, but has hardly followed up on it since he came to power last year. Many suspect that this is because Pakistan’s military, which largely controls Pakistan’s national security and foreign policy, has not allowed him to pursue that agenda. Reuters points out that Sharif’s government has come under extraordinary pressure in recent weeks, due to the heated disagreement between the government and the military over how to respond to a Taliban insurgency that has killed thousands:

Sharif came to power a year ago promising to find a peaceful settlement with the Islamist militant group, but as round after round of talks failed, the powerful armed forces favoured a military solution.

Their patience finally ran out and, late on Tuesday afternoon, during a tense meeting, the army effectively declared it would override a crucial plank of the government’s strategy and take matters into its own hands.

To complicate matters further, the Indian consulate in the Afghan city of Herat was attacked by three heavily armed gunmen. Indian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan have repeatedly been attacked; many suspect the ISI, Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, to be responsible.

If it was the ISI that planned it, the attack seems as much a message to Sharif as it is to India that the military will decide what the India-Pakistan relationship will look like, despite Modi and Sharif’s best intentions.

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  • gabrielsyme

    To my mind, the military exerting some degree of free action in terms of domestic insurgencies is a lot less troubling than determining policy with respect to a nuclear-armed neighbour. Sharif may not really want to go to Modi’s inauguration given Modi’s history, but if he does want to, he really needs to exert freedom of action for his administration, at least in this crucial area.

  • Breif2

    But I was assured in this veryvenue that “Relations in Pakistan are hardly warm toward India, but in contrast to Modi Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ran on the promise of normalizing relations.” I find myself discombobulated.

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