File photo of Pakistan PM Imran Khan | Facebook
File photo of Pakistan PM Imran Khan | Facebook
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As Narendra Modi takes oath as the Indian Prime Minister for a second term, his biggest foreign policy challenge will be Pakistan, especially after mounting a high-decibel negative campaign against it.

But, Modi’s personalised approach to diplomacy, of hugs and handshakes, which has been a success with leaders like Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, may not work with Pakistan PM Imran Khan.

Also, investing time and effort in building a relationship with Khan may simply not pay off as civilian Prime Ministers don’t hang around for long in Pakistan.

Pakistan wants talks with India

In Pakistan, there is a greater desire for talks with India now, primarily due to the country’s shaky economic position and the international pressure it is facing. Recent reports say that Pakistan will continue to be on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list.

Pakistan is entering another IMF programme to stabilise its economy. Spending on development has dropped by 34 per cent in the current fiscal year even as defence expenditure has shot up by 24 per cent.


Also read: Pakistan’s rupee is close to becoming the world’s biggest loser this month


This diversion of scarce resources from development to defence is unsustainable and Pakistan’s elite is now slowly realising that Islamabad cannot afford the anti-India stance any longer.

Inflation is rising and unemployment is set to worsen under the IMF programme. What better way to draw attention away from this economic pain than engaging with India and capturing people’s attention?

General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the current chief of army staff in Pakistan, has also shown a willingness to resume dialogue with India. Bajwa is set to retire in November this year, which means that he is hard-pressed for time and would like to make progress before he passes the baton to his successor.

All eyes on SCO summit

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, which kicks off next month in Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, will give us an early indication of which way things are headed between the two nuclear-armed countries. Reports suggest that a Modi-Khan meeting on the sidelines of the summit could be on the cards.

Ironically, Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, had cynically targeted former PM Nawaz Sharif for engaging with Modi and had raised the slogan “jo Modi ka yaar hai, ghaddar hai (he who is Modi’s friend is a traitor)”.


Also read: Time for Modi govt to mean business with BIMSTEC. Regional cooperation can’t wait for Pakistan


But 2019 is different, and Imran Khan knows it is important to reach out to India and Narendra Modi. Differences aside, there a quite a few common threads tying the two – they both have a revulsion for dynastic politics and a strong urge to change the status quo.

A meeting between them can open a unique opportunity to bring a turnaround in the frosty India-Pakistan relations.

The resumption of back-channel talks – Pakistan may appoint a new national security adviser to restart the process – may also allow both sides to make progress on key issues away from the glare of the media. This can give India and Pakistan the much-needed space to put together the building blocks for a bilateral meeting in the coming months. We may even see both leaders going beyond just a handshake at the United Nations General Assembly session later this year in New York.

Give peace a chance

Most would argue, rightfully, that the chances of a real change in India-Pakistan relations is marginal at best. India has continued to argue that Pakistan must curb groups engaging in cross-border terrorism before talks begin. Pakistan, on the other hand, has continued to allege that India is supporting anti-Pakistan terror groups in Afghanistan and that its intelligence agencies are fomenting violence within the country.


Also read: With Lok Sabha elections over, how can India and Pakistan now repair fractured ties?


Imran Khan, however, has said that if India takes one step forward, “we will take two”, and this view has the support of the military leadership for the time being. But Pakistan’s civilian and military elite will not unilaterally cede to the Indian demands without any reciprocal action. With Modi keen to give “primacy to peace and development in our region”, we can only hope that the two prime ministers are not held hostage by history.

The author is a Director with Albright Stonebridge Group’s south Asia practice. He holds a Master’s degree in Law and Diplomacy with concentration in Economic Policy and South Asia from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Views are personal.

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9 Comments Share Your Views

9 COMMENTS

  1. No talks with failed and terrorist state of porkistan.

    Porkistani economy is dying and India can do a lot to expedite this by putting pressure diplomatically and military so that porkis are unable to reduce their defence budget in their sinking economy.

  2. Absolutely no purpose will be served by any talks with Pakistan. India must ignore it and spend energy on other matters.

  3. Notice also how the author of this note mentions India’s argument that Pakistan should curb cross-border terror with Pakistan’s claim of India doing the same in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. Does a real scholar really believe that the scale of the terror infra-structure comes close to anything that any other country in the region has? These neutral sounding words, that too from an academic, betray a deep bias.

  4. We have seen this before also. Pakistan wants talks, not peace. They want it right now so they can change the narrative about Pakistan being a safe zone for terrorists. It helps with FATF and IMF. So the real prize for them is the appearance for talks, not substance. From an Indian perspective, we should demand something irreversible like the handover of Dawood Ibrahim or the masterminds of Mumbai terror.

  5. Pakistan has been knocked to the ropes by their misdeeds.
    Why India has to help them to get up again and then unleash venomous snakes. ?
    A piece unfit for Indian audiences .Indian Public has gone beyond Pakistani infatuation.The chemistry has changed for ever.
    Editor , please do not get bowled over just because Writer is of Pakistani origin.

  6. Difficult to see what the talks will be about. Most likely these are just an eye wash exercises by the Pakistanis to pull some wool over the eyes of outsider agencies.
    Furthermore, it is difficult to see what could India offer as a quid pro quo, apart from some economic incentive. Plus whats the guarantee that Pakistan would hold its own end of the deal once its situation improves.
    Probably, trust building and confidence building can be the only legitimate aim of talks at these points. Even then, overturning 70 years of duplicity and 30 years of proxy war, terror and religious indoctrination isn’t easy to overcome.

  7. The writer has made it like it’s only Modi’s negative campaign whereas the writer has also described the Imran Khan’s negative campaign with slogans like “Jo Modi ka yaar hai, Ghaddar hai”…… And Imran’s campaign was before Modi’s campaign…. This is the delusionary techniques of demonizing Modi only…. Fault is not only of the writer but publisher ThePrint also responsible for giving space to a writer of most probably of foreign origin to downgrade your own PM …. There are many people who only read th heading of the article and not the complete article….. Very unfortunate on the part of ThePrint…..

  8. Time and again, our efforts at peace have been rebuffed by incursions and terror attacks by Pakistan. Things will be back to normal ( meddling in Kashmir, ceasefire violations etc) once Pakistan economy gets going. Now is our chance of driving a hard bargain by continuing a tough stand on border and no talks till they unilaterally concede to our major demands or drive their economy to the ground in fending off Indian hegemony.

    • Agreed. Most negotiating takes place long before the sitting down and long before the give and take begins. In any case, what Pakistan wants is to get the benefits of being seen as negotiating, not in making any concessions. We are better off not talking to them. You talk of “unilateral concessions” and “Indian hegemony:. Your choice of words validates Pakistani propaganda. We are not asking for “unilateral concessions”, we are asking what Pakistan has already agreed to but never implemented. We want a complete end to the infra-structure of terror in Pakistan so they cannot terror exports end once and for all. We are also asking for Mumbai terror masterminds to be brought to trial. We are also asking for a return of Dawood Ibrahim, who Pakistan has agreed, is not a Pakistani citizen. As far as “hegemony” is concerned, India has never desired not tried to be a hegemonic. It is Pakistan, a much smaller nation, that works diligently to destroy India.

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