New Delhi: PM Modi took over as Prime Minister of India on May 26, 2014. People’s mandate was historical; PM Modi made it more hard-hitting and emphatic when he invited his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif to the swearing-in ceremony.
Nawaz Sharif also agreed. PM Modi also broad-based it by inviting other SAARC Government and nation heads. Both stole the media limelight, which was a calculated risk for both.
Looking back into the last nine years, we know PM Modi delivered, and his voters and admirers cannot grudge him trying — giving it a shot, as they put it. For his part, Nawaz Sharif faced a much bigger uphill task, and his attempts were stonewalled.
In 2017, I interacted with a Pakistani diplomat, and his argument was Nawaz Sharif has a “business interest” in promoting cordial ties with India. Today, Pakistan is in an economic crisis, and one medicine offered by many quarters is that the Western neighbour needs to improve its ties with New Delhi.
Now the game has changed, and we have a more decisive regime in Delhi than the Pakistani military establishment could have imagined. The Indian Government, Indian Prime Minister or External Affairs Ministry no longer hesitate to call spade a spade. India’s foreign Minister, Dr S Jaishankar, unhesitatingly described Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as a ‘spokesman for terrorism’.
A confident PM Modi is looking into the future with more dreams and vision.
On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif might have personally reached his political semi-retirement stage though his brother Shehbaz is now the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
In between these nine years, one important facet of India-Pakistan diplomacy was the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor.
Creditably, the project survived irrespective of two major diplomatic hassles — the Pulwama terror strike and the abrogation of Article 370.
Indian security agencies and officials seem to appreciate that the corridor project “was and is linked to people’s faith and hence India took a conscious decision”.
Pakistan, for its part, on the one hand, has tried to project its ‘softer face’ in terms of welcoming minorities and improving people-to-people ties – but the “mask has sometimes slipped”.
One key Government source told me in 2019 – days before the Corridor was opened: “In fact, on occasions, the unstated objective has come out in the open. Everyone recalls how Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Kartarpur was a ‘googlie’ and then President of Pakistan had said Kartarpur was a great chess move”.
Paradoxically and not without good reasons, the self-styled chess players had to eat humble pie.
“There was escalated rhetoric on everything else, but the Kartarpur corridor survived. That only shows that power larger than the popular government and the civil leadership in Pakistan has been pushing it,” the source maintained, trying to drive home the point that the Pakistan army wanted to use Kartarpur as a stepping stone to radicalise the Sikh population in India.
Today, the crises in Pakistan have increased manifold beyond the realm of politics, and its communal agenda is responsible for the utter chaos.
While Nawaz Sharif and even Imran Khan (till he was in office) readily became captives of the cantonment shenanigans, in India, PM Modi did not approve of being captive to the “wisdom lying in files of South Block”, notes Nripendra Misra, former Principal Secretary to PM.
According to him, PM Modi also had made it clear to advisers that the baggage of the last 70 years was unwelcome and ‘no dogma’ would guide his foreign policy initiatives. Hence, he played out of the box.
Nawaz Sharif also believed in playing ‘out of box’ diplomacy to give him his due, but he always felt handicapped.
In India under PM Modi, “the foreign policy was solely geared to achieve peace without any compromise of sovereignty and his commitment to development goals for the betterment of 1.3 billion Indians”, wrote Nripendra Misra in 2020.
He argued – that explained Modi’s “surprise visit” to Lahore at a very short notice.
“To have such a tasty cake (on Sharif’s birthday), I can go to any part of the globe,” PM Modi had said. Sadly, Pakistan reciprocated with Pathankot and Uri.
“He (Modi) could rise above trifling considerations of cost and benefit because he sniffed an opportunity to improve bilateral ties. It’s Pakistan’s misfortune that vested interests in that country sabotaged the pursuit of peace and prosperity,” Nripendra Misra penned.
In 2015 summer yet again, PM Modi and Nawaz Sharif played ball. Nawaz Sharif is not a novice, but he agreed to a joint statement at Ufa in Russia on July 10, 2015, with Indian PM Modi without mentioning the K-word, “Kashmir’.
Earlier in 1997, much before PM, Modi became the phenomenon that he is today, Nawaz Sharif did away with Gen Zia’s 8th Amendment (which Benazir and others did not dare to touch).
The constitutional Amendment had given overriding powers to the Pakistan army. Thus like his Indian counterpart in the past, Nawaz Sharif too showed that he is a gutsy leader. But he always decided to be practical too and obliged his army generals.
There is another common ground between Nawaz Sharif and PM Modi as both are “homegrown” politicians who may lack western/anglicised sophistication but speak good Hindi and are certainly ear-on-ground politicians.
While PM Modi braved through the 2002 Gujarat mayhem onslaught and ten years of ‘unfriendly’ UPA in power, Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan politics and captured power after being forced to exile after Pervez Musharraf took over.
Yet, in 2023 the scenario is different. PM Modi is today seen as a global statesman, whereas Nawaz Sharif has a bigger challenge to deal with in domestic politics than playing any major roles. The big picture story is Indian diplomacy rocks.