Will Modi thaw relations with Pakistan in his third term as PM of India?

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inaugurated for his third term as the country’s leader on June 9, with a distinguished audience of seven neighboring nations’ leaders in attendance, reminiscent of his first oath-taking ceremony in 2014, repeated in 2019.

However, a significant difference marked this occasion from 2014: notably absent from the guest list was the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

A decade ago, the imagery of Pakistan’s then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif warmly clasping hands with Modi during his visit to attend the swearing-in event signified a glimmer of hope for the longstanding and strained India-Pakistan relations — a hope that subsequent setbacks have all but extinguished. As Modi embarks on his third term in office, his reduced mandate, which necessitates alliances to maintain power, suggests a tough stance towards Pakistan, with little motivation to ease tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

“Modi will extend his hand to neighboring countries, all of whom were invited to his swearing-in ceremony. However, Pakistan was not,” remarked Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani ambassador to the United Nations, United States, and the United Kingdom. “His administration is likely to maintain its firm stance towards Pakistan, with which he has shown little interest in engaging over the past five years. This is unlikely to change.”

Early indicators validate Lodhi’s assessment.

On the very day of Modi’s oath-taking, a tragic incident occurred in the Reasi district of Indian-administered Kashmir, where gunmen targeted a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims, resulting in the deaths of at least nine people and injuring more than 30. This was followed by three additional incidents within the week in various parts of Indian-administered Kashmir, where security forces engaged attackers, resulting in three deaths and injuries to seven security personnel.

Indian security agencies attributed these incidents to Pakistani involvement. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, however, rebuffed these allegations on Thursday, accusing Indian authorities of making “irresponsible statements” habitually.

Nevertheless, a day after the Reasi attack, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attempted to rekindle his past camaraderie with Modi.

“My warm congratulations to Modi Ji (@narendramodi) on assuming office for the third time. Your party’s electoral success reflects the people’s confidence in your leadership. Let us replace hatred with hope and seize the opportunity to shape the destiny of the two billion people of South Asia,” wrote Sharif, currently a member of the Pakistani parliament, on June 10.

Modi reciprocated in a similar vein, acknowledging the message from his former counterpart.

“Appreciate your message @NawazSharifMNS. The people of India have always stood for peace, security, and progressive ideas. Advancing the well-being and security of our people shall always remain our priority,” Modi responded.

In contrast, the congratulatory message from Pakistan’s current Prime Minister, Nawaz’s younger brother Shehbaz Sharif, was noticeably restrained.

“Congratulations to @narendramodi on assuming office as the Prime Minister of India,” wrote Sharif from his account.

As Modi commences his third term in office, the absence of Pakistan’s Prime Minister at his oath-taking ceremony underscores the frostiness in bilateral relations. The dynamics between India and Pakistan continue to be defined by complex geopolitics, historical grievances, and security concerns, further exacerbated by recent escalations in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Moving forward, Modi’s administration is anticipated to uphold a robust stance towards Pakistan, prioritizing national security and stability amidst regional complexities.

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