Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers Meet
Just three days after a pair of attacks by separatist rebels on Indian security forces in Kashmir, the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan met at a hotel in New York during a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. It was the first such meeting between Manmohan Singh and newly elected Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif since Sharif’s election in May. The meeting signalled new hope in relations between countries that have fought three wars and have had especially tense relations since the Mumbai attacks in 2008.
The meeting was characterized as constructive and useful by India’s National Security Advisor, a key player in conflicts on the “Line of Control” in the disputed Kashmir region. Both sides agreed that better control was needed to prevent violations of a ceasefire. Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, said, “It was an extremely positive meeting,” and that both sides demonstrated a commitment to improving their relationship.
On an issue that impacts both sides, India’s leader pressured his Pakistani counterpart to move forward with the trials of seven men accused of participating in the Mumbai attack. Those trials have been delayed, but Sharif promised to accelerate the process. Demonstrating such a commitment to punish those who participate in terrorist attacks against Indians would go a long way toward improving relations between the two countries.
The meeting comes at a critical time as instability in the region overall is rising. As the US prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, India and Pakistan don’t share the same interests in the country, and yet another source of conflict could cause more problems. Further, the Pakistani government itself has been dealing with internal terrorism, which is not surprising given that Sharif was overthrown by a coup in 1999 during his previous stint as Prime Minister.
Perhaps the most important thing to come out of the meeting is that the leaders of both countries accepted invitations to visit the other. Given the strained relations between the nuclear neighbors, such diplomatic overtures, symbolic though they may be, are a positive sign that the two sides are committed to resolving their differences diplomatically and to ending the violence that has long plagued them, especially in Kashmir. Ultimately it will be extremely difficult for either side to control individual actors who choose to engage in violence, but strong leadership and the hope of peace that improved ties would demonstrate could go a long way in terms of making would-be terrorists see less need for violence.
Pakistan and India have a very long way to go in terms of ending the violence that has plagued them, settling their border dispute, controlling rogue actors, and improving economic relations, but the meeting that took place in New York is definitely a positive step. The more these leaders are seen working together, the more hope there is that the violence will stop on both sides of the Line of Control. Whether the two rivals will ultimately manage to forge a stable, peaceful relationship is anybody’s guess, but high level meetings that have more of a tone of cooperation than confrontation are a first step.