The Indian Prime Minister will meet his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) today to discuss sensitive issues such as Kashmir and terrorism.
Modi extended an invitation to Sharif to attend his inauguration to the office of Prime Minister, the first time an Indian Prime Minister-elect did so. Sharif accepted the invitation and attended the ceremony in New Delhi, giving rise to expectations of a new relationship between the two countries that have fought five wars over the divided state of Kashmir. That hope soon died, however, when the Pakistani High Commissioner to India met with Kashmiri separatists in Indian-controlled Kashmir. New Delhi took offence and the traditional chill between the two countries returned. To be fair, this was not the first time a Pakistani High Commissioner to India had met with the same separatists, which led Islamabad to voice its discontent at the Modi Administration’s strong reaction to the meeting. In any event, relations broke down once again and the goodwill developed by Modi’s invitation to Sharif and the latter’s attendance soon dissipated.
As noted previously, India and Pakistan are likely to be made full members of SCO very shortly. It would be beneficial to the two countries, therefore, not to mention the organisation itself, if their frosty relationship could be mended so as to enable them to contribute to an organisation in which they will need to work together in close proximity to each other. There is little doubt that Beijing will have pressured both countries, at least to an extent, to facilitate this outcome in order to enable it to concentrate upon its own economic and strategic goals and not be distracted by quarrels and grievances between member states.
It is, however, the topics that are reportedly to be discussed that are striking. The issue of Kashmir has led India and Pakistan to go to war at least four times (the fifth instance, commonly known as the Kargil War, is debated because war was not formally declared, although it was a war in every other sense of the term). India and, recently, Pakistan, have traded accusations of state-sponsored terrorism against each other, although the general consensus is that India has a stronger case for its accusations than Pakistan does. For both Prime Ministers to discuss these two major causes of the poor relationship between them seemingly without prior preparation for such a meeting is a major development and is to be lauded.
The meeting and discussions themselves may not produce an immediately positive result; that would be too much to expect. That the two leaders have agreed to have this discussion at such short notice on the sidelines of another event is, however, praiseworthy and could, hopefully, prove to be the start of a new beginning in their relationship.
Indian Ocean Research Programme