NEW YORK – A leading American newspaper Saturday welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise Christmas Day trip to Pakistan, saying he may have concluded that improved ties with Islamabad could help him realize his domestic ambitions, which, it said, include transforming India into an economic power.
“As they clasped hands while walking down the red carpet at the Lahore airport recently, (Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan and Narendra Modi of India looked more like close friends than the leaders of two countries whose tense relations have long been a threat to regional stability,” The New York Times said in an editorial: India and Pakistan Try Again.
The newspaper said Modi undertook the Lahore stopover after having finally decided that better relations with Pakistan were not only necessary, but required his personal involvement, noting that, “So far he has not delivered on that promise (of making India an economic power), spurring protests by middle-class Indians demanding more good jobs.
“Meanwhile, members of his government and political party have been inflaming sectarian tensions, alarming many Indians and damaging Mr. Modi’s international reputation. A recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that without market reforms India risks being left behind in international trade, and that the risk of conflict with Pakistan ‘threatens to drag India down.’ The group said India should seek better relations ‘for the sake of its own future’.”
“Mr. Sharif’s warm greeting and hosting of Mr. Modi at the Sharif family home set a welcome atmosphere for talks aimed at resuming a stalled dialogue on critical economic and security issues,” the editorial, which was written ahead of the Pathankot incident, said. “But while the two leaders got the political optics right, the challenge, as always, will be overcoming formidable obstacles at home.
“Mr. Sharif has pressed for engagement with India; Mr. Modi has been conflicted,” the newspaper noted. “Mr. Modi has also taken a harder line than his predecessor on security issues involving Pakistan.
“Domestic constraints limit both leaders, especially Mr Sharif,” the Times said, adding, “His power is eclipsed by an army that controls the fastest-growing nuclear weapons program in the world.
“Whether the generals support Mr Sharif’s new outreach to Mr. Modi is unclear, though it seems clear that contact between the two nuclear-armed countries is imperative given the many points of friction, including Afghanistan and Kashmir.
“One major test of the Sharif-Modi relationship will be whether the two can work together to promote peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which has been making gains on the battlefield. Pakistan has ‘given assistance’ and a ‘haven’ to the Afghan Taliban as a hedge against India, while India has supported and provided military assistance to the Afghan government.
“American officials say they believe that Pakistan’s army has become more serious about fighting the Taliban and encouraging peace talks because the generals are increasingly worried that a Taliban victory could make Afghanistan a more attractive magnet for the Islamic State and other militants who could threaten Pakistan. Other experts are doubtful. Whether a stronger personal connection between Mr Sharif and Mr. Modi can lead to real trust and cooperation on such issues remains to be seen.”
NEO Monitoring Report