India and Pakistan May Finally Be Ready to Make Peace

How It Works
May 27 2014 9:03 AM

Peacemaker Modi?

493989973-indias-newly-sworn-in-prime-minister-narendra-modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as they shake hands during a meeting in New Delhi on May 27, 2014.

Photo by RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images

On his first day in office, newly sworn-in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It was the first time since the end of British colonialism in 1947 that the prime minister of one of the states attended the swearing-in of the other. Top diplomats will soon be meeting to resume peace talks between the two nuclear-armed rivals, whose outstanding disputes include the status of the Kashmir region and culpability for the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

It’s been suggested that Modi, whose Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is viewed with suspicion in Pakistan and has opposed reconciliation with India’s predominantly Muslim neighbor in the past, could be a kind of Nixon-in-China figure for India in Pakistan, with his past as a hard-liner giving him more room to negotiate. The last time there was major progress is peace talks between the two countries was in the late 1990s, when Sharif was in power at the same time as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the last member of the BJP to hold the office.

Advertisement

But before reading too much into today’s events, or giving Modi too much credit, it’s worth noting that, on the economic front at least, a thaw between the two rivals has been underway for some time.

While the level of trade between the two countries, which share an 1,800-mile border, has long been pitifully low, it increased ninefold to $2.7 billion in between 2004 and 2011. India has loosened its visa restrictions on Pakistani travelers. Pakistan is likely to soon grant India “most favored nation” status, and has eliminated the “negative list”—a group of sensitive items whose trade is restricted (including such highly dangerous goods as chickens and badmitton shuttlecocks).

The resumption of high-level peace talks is rightly viewed as a breakthrough, but regular secretary-level talks on trade have been held for a while now.  

Of course, more trade doesn’t guarantee cordial relations. Just look at Russia and the EU, or Venezuela and the United States. Even if the two leaders are entirely sincere in their desire for a rapprochement, Modi still has hard-liners in the BJP to string along and Sharif has Pakistan’s powerful and India-phobic military establishment to deal with. And the situation on the border in Kashmir remains deadly and volatile.

And if, as Afghan President Hamid Karzai suggests, the Pakistan-based rebel group Lashkar-e-Taiba was behind last week's attack on an Indian diplomatic mission in Afghanistan, it could inflame tensions again.

But at the very least, it may now be viewed as bad for business for the situation to get too out of hand.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your children is perfectly legal. 

Ken Burns on Why Teddy Roosevelt Would Never Get Elected in 2014

Cops Briefly Detain Django Unchained Actress Because They Thought She Was a Prostitute

Minimalist Cocktail Posters Make Mixing Drinks a Cinch

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest of jewels.

Books

Rainbow Parties and Sex Bracelets

Where teenage sex rumors come from—and why they’re bad for parents and kids.

Books

You Had to Be There

What we can learn from things that used to be funny.

Legendary Critic Greil Marcus Measures and Maps Rock History Through 10 Unlikely Songs

Catfish Creator Nev Schulman’s Book Is Just Like Him: Self-Deluded and Completely Infectious

Behold
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 14 2014 7:10 PM Watch Michael Winslow Perform Every Part of “Whole Lotta Love” With Just His Voice
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?