Nawaz-Narendra Meeting: Giving Peace a Chance

When the BJP invited Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend the oath taking ceremony of newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it triggered different perceptions and views on both sides of the border. Undoubtedly, it’s a welcome beginning to restart the stalled peace process between the two governments. Most of the political parties (including Pakistan Tehrek-i-Insaaf, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) and Awami National Party and the opposition leader Syed Khurshid Shah) inside Pakistan have expressed positive views on the impending meeting likely to take place on the side lines of the ceremony between the two Prime Ministers. Similar voices have been heard from India when the spokesperson of BJP and Congress leaders also shared hopes to foster improved bilateral ties.

Many observers associate ‘symbolic’ value to this event, nonetheless, the meeting carries a challenge in opportunity to break the deadlock in India-Pakistan relations. The checkered history of mistrust between the two countries was further reinforced after the Mumbai incident (2008) and served to polarize the political atmosphere in South Asia. The new political regimes (Nawaz still having four more years and Narendra five) have significant time ahead to bring a thaw in bilateral relations, however, given the caveat of domestic politics on either side, moving forward in this direction represents a formidable challenge for both leaders. The PML-N government is grappling with multiple crises on the home front–ranging from energy crisis, economic stagnation, unemployment and inflation, and most importantly the ongoing war on terror. On the other hand, Modi’s landslide victory coupled with his hardline and right-wing political orientation may cast a shadow over his future political discourse. Interestingly, a common slogan during the election campaigns of Sharif and Modi has been economic stability, which might shape the future direction of a possible roadmap to normalization of relations through greater emphasis on trade. It would also offer a window of opportunity to translate their political resolve to facilitate economic growth and develop a base of mutual cooperation between the two countries.

Although Modi and the former BJP leader A.B. Vajpayee appear to be very different personalities–Modi being the Hindutva nationalist accused of fomenting anti-Muslim riots while he was the Chief Minister of Gujrat state, and Vajpayee known to be a seasoned politician with years of experience in the Central Government and considered a statesman. Nonetheless, Modi’s bold gesture in extending an invitation to SAARC member countries’ leaders is a positive move. There is an opportunity for Pakistan and India to make a good start from where the two states diverged their paths, particularly after the 1999 Lahore Declaration in the wake of the Kargil conflict, with their bilateral relations suffering from the 2002 and 2008 crises. Yet they have come a long way since overt nuclearization and can only move forward towards normalizing their relations for the mutual benefit of their respective people. It is a fact that any show of ad-hocism from either side would not only jeopardize the fragile bilateral political atmosphere but would also reinforce those voices (on both sides) that are always suspicious of resuming the dialogue process. Practically, it would not be easy to bring a quick transformation in the well-entrenched and deeply imbedded perceptions of mutual mistrust, animosity and paranoia with formidable obstacles remaining in the path to better bilateral relations. Nonetheless, if the stalled peace process is again put on track, albeit, on a gradual but steady pace, it would be a significant achievement towards bringing a much needed thaw in India-Pakistan relations. This would only be possible if both sides demonstrate magnanimity, flexibility and a determination to reconcile with each other’s legitimate concerns on the basis of sovereign equality between the two nuclear weapons states.


Image: Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Flickr

Posted in , Cooperation, Elections, India, India-Pakistan Relations, leadership, Pakistan, Politics

Sannia Abdullah

Dr. Sannia Abdullah is a political scientist and Research Affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University. Previously, she was a Stanton Nuclear Security Post-doctoral Fellow (2017-2018) at CISAC and has also worked with Cooperative Monitoring Center, Sandia National Labs (Albuquerque, NM). Previously, she had been teaching in the department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Pakistan. Since 2016, she presented her research in ISA 2018, Atlantic Council, ISAC-ISSS-Annual Conference, and University of Notre Dame. She was invited to deliver lectures at the USAFA on Pakistan’s deterrence stability and maturing force posture. She expressed her academic views at different forums including Pentagon, Lawrence Livermore National Labs, and Congressional Budget Office and in some Think Tanks in Washington D.C. She had been a Nonproliferation Fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), in Monterey and SWAMOS alumni of Columbia University (2011). Since 2010, Dr. Abdullah has been part of several Track-II dialogues and had an opportunity to learn decision-making trends through her regular participations in Table Top Exercises exploring escalation control and deterrence stability in South Asia. Her research recently published in The Washington Quarterly, Asia Europe Journal, War on the Rocks and South Asian Voices. She is working on her book manuscript focusing on the evolution of Pakistan's nuclear behavior and its deterrence logic. Her research interests include governance, Organizations and Institutions, Military and Nuclear Policy.

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2 thoughts on “Nawaz-Narendra Meeting: Giving Peace a Chance

  1. Sannia,

    Excellent post.

    Symbolic gestures can be big or small. Releasing captured fishermen, for example, is a symbolic gesture that is often made in conjunction with high-level meetings, including recently. But because this has happened so often, its symbolism has been greatly diminished.

    Inviting all SAARC leaders, especially Pakistan’s Prime Minister, to the oath-taking in New Delhi is a big symbolic gesture. Perhaps it will be repeated in the future, and its symbolism will diminish. But for now, this invitation was highly significant, shrewd, and perhaps of lasting value.

    Other big, symbolic gestures, like PM Vajpayee’s bus trip across Punjab to Lahore, and his visit to the Minar-e-Pakistan, have come to naught. In order for this big symbolic gesture to have lasting meaning, two factors will be paramount. The first is whether both governments have the means to move quickly and systematically to improve relations in concrete ways. The second is whether there will be an attack against another iconic target in India that can be traced back to Pakistan.


  2. Dear Saania Abdullah
    The things you mentioned are voice of millions of people of the subcontinent. As the matter of governments and nations is concerned, my fear is not so wrong, that there is nothing like “equality”. You have very nicely highlighted and compared Modi and Vajpayee. Both belong to BJP, but no doubt their perceptions as PM cannot lead the party policy rather party policy surpasses the top leader’s perceptions. The situation of N-league in Pakistan is so different. E.g. Will Modi come to Pakistan? Surely No. Will Nawaz Sharif go again (and again and again (so on)) to India? Surely yes.
    Illama Iqbal write a poem “Dewanay ka Khawaab”. Your ending hope is hope of every single Pakistani that
    “… This would only be possible if both sides demonstrate magnanimity, flexibility and a determination to reconcile with each other’s legitimate concerns on the basis of sovereign equality between the two nuclear weapons states”.
    Last words, your article is really good and keeps it up. I am too a lecturer in a University. Your words endorse our national desire.

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