X diplomacy

Published June 12, 2024

AN exchange of X posts on Monday between Pakistani leaders and Narendra Modi marked the beginning of the latter’s third term as prime minister of India.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif posted a brief message of “felicitations”, to which Mr Modi responded with an equally brief “thank you”. The PM’s elder brother Nawaz Sharif’s post was more verbose and a tad warmer.

The PML-N supremo and former three-time premier addressed “Modi Ji” in a personalised manner, expressing his wish that hope would replace hate in the subcontinent. Mr Modi returned the compliments, albeit twice highlighting the need for “security”.

Nearly all observers are of the view that any ground-breaking changes in the bilateral realm should not be expected from Modi 3.0, and this was clearly felt during the Indian PM’s oath-taking on Sunday. Nearly all South Asian leaders were present at Delhi’s Rashtrapati Bhavan for the ceremony, but not Pakistan’s PM.

In contrast, Nawaz Sharif attended Narendra Modi’s first oath-taking a decade ago. But much water has passed under the bridge since then.

Though the signs are not positive, the weeks ahead will tell whether the Modi administration wishes to turn the corner where Pakistan is concerned, or whether it will continue its current trajectory. Where the ‘security’ mantra goes, this is a double-edged sword.

While India has long accused Pakistan of supporting cross-border militancy — the Indian foreign minister on Tuesday said his country wanted a “solution” to the issue — the fact is that New Delhi’s own record in this area is far from stellar. The recent disclosure that Indian intelligence was running a network of assassins within Pakistan is one example of this.

The point is that both states can pursue adversarial policies, or come to the negotiating table and frankly discuss all outstanding issues. Indeed, there are various irritants — security, water issues, and most of all the Kashmir question — yet these can all be tackled through dialogue, if there is a mutual desire to do so.

While we should not have high hopes of any instant warming of ties, one hopes the governments begin the process of normalisation through small steps. For example, full diplomatic ties can be restored and back-channel dialogue discreetly initiated. In a world consumed by conflict, South Asia’s two biggest powers have a chance to start afresh on the path to peace.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2024

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