Washington likely venue for the next Modi-Sharif meet

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India discussed climate initiatives with President Obama during a conference in Paris

By Varghese K George

As India and Pakistan enhance their engagement over the next weeks, after the abrupt turnaround in relations, the U.S capital will likely be the venue for the next meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif.

President Barack Obama has invited both prime ministers for the Nuclear Security Summit on March 31 and April 1, 2016. Though no formal announcements have been made, it is almost certain that both Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif will be attending it. Mr. Obama sees “nuclear terrorism.. the most immediate and extreme threat to global security,” according to a White House statement on the summit. Nuclear security remains a lingering concern for the U.S. policy for South Asia particularly. The summit will be the first occasion in 2016 that will bring Indian and Pakistan PMs together. Official level talks between the countries are scheduled to start in mid-January, 2016.

Meanwhile, U.S scholars who welcome Mr. Modi’s latest initiative believe the onus is now on Pakistan, particularly its military, to ensure that relations remain on track. “Prime Minister Modi’s unexpected visit to Lahore is a welcome development. Let us hope it leads to an improvement in trust between Delhi and Islamabad. But, that will only occur in a meaningful way if the Pakistani military also opens itself to better relations with India,” said R. Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

“This is clearly a big win for Modi and for creative Indian diplomacy. The onus is of course on Pakistani leaders to ensure that terrorists do not disrupt the positive momentum, so Indian and Pakistani officials can continue with their plans to revive a comprehensive dialogue. I hope this thaw will permit India and Pakistan and Afghanistan to work successfully together on stabilizing the region–but again, much depends on Pakistan meeting its obligations as a state to prevent terror attacks,” said Alyssa Ayres senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia.

Scholars also believe the thaw in India-Pakistan relations will help improve the situation in South Asia. “Any improvement in relations between India and Pakistan will always be welcomed by the United States. Washington has always sought peace in the subcontinent and attempted to encourage Delhi and Islamabad to talk and resolve issues through talks and negotiations. The U.S. has always believed that as the larger country in South Asia, India should be more magnanimous towards its neighbours. Washington also believes that boosting the civilian government in Pakistan will help India. Finally, with an eye on Afghanistan, the United States would prefer good relations between India and Pakistan, so that Pakistan, especially its military, can be convinced to help the United States and allies in Afghanistan,” said Aparna Pande, Director, Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at Hudson Institute.

“In the interest of the U.S and all friends of India”

“What we must hope for is that India and Pakistan find a way to reduce the possibility of conflict and to try to achieve a more normal and productive relationship. That is certainly in the interest of the U.S. and all friends of India,” said Prof. Burns. “Longstanding U.S. policy has been to wish both countries the best in their efforts to resolve their differences bilaterally. But the next steps in fulfilling resumption of a comprehensive dialogue really do depend on ensuring the process is not sabotaged by a terror attack,” said Ms. Ayres.

Ms. Pande expects U.S.-India defence and economic ties to grow stronger and nothing dramatic in U.S. relations with Pakistan. “With respect to Pakistan I see a continuation of the current policy with nothing dramatic happening till the next administration comes in. Afghanistan is critical as U.S. troops are still there and thus there will be a continuation in attempt to find a negotiated solution: so talks with Taliban will continue, Pakistan will be encouraged to help, China will be asked to put pressure on Pakistan to ensure talks continue but I do not see the talks going anywhere.”

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