On January 2, eight days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise Christmas Day stop in Lahore to visit with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, terrorists attacked an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, Punjab. The next day, with fighting still raging in Pathankot, the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan came under attack. These grim developments deflated the optimism generated by the Modi visit for renewed “comprehensive bilateral dialogue” between India and Pakistan. The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought four wars, and repeated efforts over the decades to bridge their differences have never overcome longstanding suspicions on both sides. Events of the past few days illustrate why.
Since 1998, when both countries tested nuclear weapons, a possible conflict has become more dangerous for the region and the world. Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to harbor a plethora of terrorist groups, and the country’s pursuit of miniaturized “tactical nukes” fuels an already combustible situation. If Modi and Sharif can lead their countries to durably improve their relationship, even modestly, they will realize a goal that has eluded their predecessors.