Sharif’s presence at Modi’s inauguration was widely perceived by the media as a positive sign for India-Pakistan relations. But Matthew J. Nelson argues that although Sharif might be well-disposed to India’s new administration, increased trade and better relations will rely on India’s support for Sharif’s efforts to persuade the Pakistan Army of the benefits.
This post forms part of a new series on the India At LSE blog, India’s Foreign Relations Under Modi. Click here to see more posts.
Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif recognise that expanding economic opportunities via increased trade could pay enormous political dividends—for their countries and their parties. The economic and political landscape of South Asia is shifting rapidly. During the past 20-25 years, labour migration, urbanization, and an entrepreneurial spirit have fuelled a rapid expansion of opportunity (and, some would say, insecurity) across the informal sector. Today, tech-savvy young people rail against old-school forms of corruption tying South Asia’s self-serving bureaucrats to its notoriously venal politicians.
Prime Minister Modi has this young tiger by the tail, at least for the moment, stitching India’s lower castes, business leaders, and urban youth together with his traditional Hindu-middle-class supporters. But, in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is struggling. He continues to enjoy the support of most Punjabis—in the Punjab itself as well as in Balochistan and Karachi—but beyond this his outlook is uncertain. In the Punjab, urban youth are toying with the idea of shifting their support to Imran Khan; Karachi and Balochistan remain violently split along ethnic lines; and, across Pakistan, the PML-N’s traditional ties to right-of-centre voters are becoming tangled up with militants bent on tearing the country apart one sect at a time. Modi and Sharif are business-oriented politicians. Each sees the value of increased trade. Each believes that the benefits of trade ‘trickle down’. Each understands that economic optimism (however precarious) equals votes. They want to work together. But can they?