India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already scored his first diplomatic coup by receiving the heads of state of all the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, including Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, at his swearing-in ceremony Monday. Although Sharif took some time to accept the invitation, the fact that he finally came, in spite of reservations expressed in various quarters in Pakistan, shows that he is willing to stand up to the hard-liners in the Pakistani establishment in an effort to normalize relations with India. For his part, Modi may be better positioned than his predecessor to work toward a new era of India-Pakistan relations.
At the same time, the May 23 attack on the Indian consulate in the Afghan city of Herat, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai attributed to the banned Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), provided a chilling reminder of the powerful elements in Pakistan opposed to peace with India. LeT was the same group believed to be behind the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack that killed 172 people, including nine attackers.
Modi’s bold overture in reaching out to the Pakistani prime minister in his very first days in office contrasts sharply with the record of outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who during his 10 years in office did not visit Pakistan despite sincerely wishing to do so. Pressure on Singh from the then-opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of which Modi is a member, as well as from parts of Singh’s own government prevented him from making the trip. It did not help that Pakistan did not accommodate India’s request for a speedy trial of those accused abetting the LeT’s Mumbai attack.