What makes this move to invite Sharif special is that it has come at a very appropriate time and both India and Pakistan have backed this without compromising. The plan could have been easily jeopardised in the wake of the attack on the Indian consulate in Herat in Afghanistan but Modi and Sharif made it a point to go ahead with the schedule. Both deserve a pat on their back for turning a potential crisis into an opportunity.
Sharif couldn't have ignored the invitation
For Sharif, turning down the invitation in the wake of the Afghanistan attacks would have sent a wrong message to the entire world. The international community would have accused Islamabad of compromising with terror, an allegation that Sharif has faced in the past. So this was a big opportunity to rewrite the scripts and Sharif did it successfully, even by convincing powerful power structures of his country and ignoring warnings given by terror mastermind Hafiz Saeed. The series of tweets by his daughter Maryam helped in dealing things with a soft hand.
Modi himself was also under pressure but he differentiated between domestic & foreign politics
But it is not just the Pakistani prime minister who was under pressure. Modi himself also faced criticism from a section of the Opposition for making soft gestures at Pakistan amid terror activities. The Opposition has also said that Modi, who spoke against the atrocity of Pakistani troops at the borders during the election campaign, has changed his stance once the results came out in his favour.
Indo-Pak talks become significant head of the USA's withdrawal from Afghanistan
It is futile to equate the strategies of domestic politics with foreign policy compulsions and no matter what Modi's critics say, he has set the foreign policy agenda rolling in the right direction. The initiative to bring together the SAARC leaders, including those from Pakistan and Sri Lanka, instead of a more fashionable round-table meeting with leaders of the BRIC, EU or USA, makes enough sense as far as a new regime in New Delhi is concerned. Perhaps the absence of the compulsion of coalition politics has freed Modi's hands but yet the apt thinking deserves appreciation.
India did a good job by inviting the SAARC member heads
India's own neighbourhood is a volatile region and despite the Look East or West policies, the policy of looking around can't be abandoned at any point in history. If the Modi government succeeds in establishing a peaceful neighbourhood by effecting a cooperation with all the neighbouring states (political, economic and cultural), it will be a big feat. The decision to invite Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksha is another example in hand. The Modi government will do the right thing by taking a fresh initiative with the Lankan government and not allow the regional parties from South India to flex their muscles. The new government at the Centre needs to make its decisive mandate count when it comes to taking key decisions in foreign policy matters.
Modi and Sharif eager to complete the '1999 task'
Coming back to the issue of Pakistan, Modi's soft approach towards Islamabad is not surprising. The first prime minister of the NDA, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, too, had taken a similar initiative with the western neighbour and the diplomacy went well until Pervez Musharraf disrupted it and toppled Sharif. History has brought back the NDA and Sharif the lost opportunity and both sides will be more than eager to finish the incomplete task. It was indeed interesting to see that Modi made up his mind to engage with the neighbour on the very first day after taking over as the PM.
Afghan question post-US withdrawal will require more India-Pakistan engagement
The engagement with Pakistan is very crucial for India at this moment. The reason is the gradual withdrawal of the western forces from Afghanistan by this year end. For a new government under Modi and a one-year-old regime of Sharif, the vacuum that will be created in Afghanistan once the USA pulls out will be threatening and wisdom lies for both New Delhi and Islamabad to stick together to deal with elements. The attack in Herat made Modi's invitation to Sharif look all the more relevant.
In India, Modi has often been labelled as a divisive leader. If he can stitch together a viable partnership with Pakistan in the fight against terror, something which he has strongly attacked in many of his speeches, history will be much kinder to him. Let's hope for a positive turnaround.