Just eight days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise Christmas Day stop in Lahore to visit with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, terrorists attacked an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, Punjab. The attack, only the latest strike after a thaw, follows a long-established pattern of spoilers jeopardizing positive openings between India and Pakistan. 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.
Given the complex politics of the India-Pakistan relationship, the United States does not play a role in their bilateral talks, but Washington can certainly take steps to help prevent spoilers from once again disrupting a dialogue process that deserves every chance to succeed. In War on the Rocks, I provide the backdrop of the recent history of conflict in South Asia, and elaborate on what Washington can do to help. In a nutshell, the single most useful thing the United States can do is to unequivocally pressure Pakistan to end support for terrorist groups — not just some, but all — that destabilize India and the region.
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