NEW DELHI – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore, Pakistan, on Christmas Day brought his hyperkinetic year of global diplomacy to a headline-grabbing close. It also raised serious questions about the direction of the highly fraught relationship between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
Since Modi took office in May 2014, India-Pakistan relations have experienced more ups and downs than a child’s yo-yo. The victory of a Hindu chauvinist hardliner – a man who had systematically blocked his predecessor’s peace-making efforts while in opposition and demonized Pakistan in his campaign speeches – was naturally assumed to portend a bilateral chill. Instead, Modi invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration.
Less than two months later, however, the two countries were exchanging artillery fire across the border, with Modi instructing the Indian Army to respond disproportionately to Pakistani provocations. Talks between the two countries’ foreign secretaries were scheduled in New Delhi, only to be called off when the Pakistanis, like so many times before, met with Indian Kashmiri separatist leaders.
In November 2014, at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Kathmandu, a photograph was taken of Modi reading a brochure, ostentatiously ignoring Sharif as he walked past. (It was subsequently revealed, however, that the two leaders had met in the hotel suite of an Indian businessman who enjoys good relations with Sharif.)