Abundant scope but tepid hope: India-Pakistan under Modi-Imran

Early amicability turned sour by the end of Modi’s first term – Pakistan-backed terror has forced India’s reluctance into a hardliner stance.


  1. Early on in his first term, PM Narendra Modi put his best foot forward with the idea of ‘Neighborhood First’ with an underlying aim of improving the relationship.
  2. But multiple cross-border terrorism incidents and diplomatic disagreements marred the early amicability Modi built with Pakistan.
  3. Imran Khan came to the office of Pakistan PM with the promise of peace and prosperity inside the country and in external relations.
  4. Although he has regularly attempted to urge India towards reconciliation, consistent terror attacks have perpetrated mistrust where India is reluctant to buy his narrative.

There’s much scope for improvement; but is there hope?

With the change in Government in 2014, there was a perception that the right-leaning BJP regime will follow a strict policy towards Pakistan. However, PM Narendra Modi surprised all and sundry, putting his best foot forward with the idea of ‘Neighborhood First’ –  with an underlying aim or improving relationships and ascertaining India’s prominence within the Subcontinent

Early on in his first tenure, PM Modi undertook unforeseen steps to try and carve out some sort of goodwill between the bitter rivals. In an unprecedented move, he invited the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony as the new PM of India.

In an unprecedented move, he invited the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony as the new PM of India.

Reciprocating the good faith shown by Sharif, PM Modi then went on an unscheduled visit to Pakistan and visited the PM at his residence in Lahore. Modi also attended the wedding of Sharif’s daughter.

But then came 2016, one of the darkest years in the history of Indo-Pak relationship.

How 2016 marred the relationship?

Arguably the most infamous year in the rivalry between the two neighbouring countries, 2016 saw three significant incidents that influenced a stark change in PM Modi’s approach towards dealing with Pakistan.

First blow to his positive outlook was the Pathankot Attack where heavily armed group impersonating Indian soldiers resulted in the loss of 6 soldier and 1 civilian lives in an operation which went on for four days.

Then on March 3rd, the Pakistani government arrested an Indian by the name of Kulbhushan Jadhav on the allegations of being a serving commander in the Indian Navy and doing subversive activities inside its territory.  

The Indian government recognised Jadhav as a former naval officer, but stated that he took premature retirement and was abducted from Iran. The incident was well-publicized by Indian media.

The next incident was when India, while countering terrorism in the Kashmir Valley, killed a terrorist called Burhan Wani, who belonged to the cadres of Hizbul Mujahideen on 8th July 2016. Wani was somewhat of a youth icon among the pro-separatist population in Kashmir.

The incident caused complete unrest in the valley. Pakistan took an opportunity and approached permanent members of the UN Security Council over the tense situation in Kashmir valley. The step drew wrath from Indian government which saw this as interference in its internal matter by the neighbours.

Next was the particularly gruesome, Uri attack when four heavily armed militants attacked an Army Brigade Headquarters close to the Line of Control (LoC), and hauled grenades at tents. The tragic incident claimed life of 17 soldiers.

If Pathankot was a first thread that came of a fragile relationship, Uri worked as the blow that shook Indian PM Modi’s hope of improvement in ties and re-solidified the mistrust between the two neighbours.

The year saw a complete turnaround in the improving amicability between India and Pakistan which prompted current Army Chief Bipin Rawat to state that Pakistan needs to curb the menace of terrorism if it wants to engage in peace talks with India.

“I think our government’s policy has been quite clear and concise,” Rawat had told reporters in New Delhi. “We have made no bones about the fact that talks and terrorism cannot go hand in hand.”

Imran Khan enters the arena

Imran Khan came to the office of Pakistan with a promise of progress and prosperity inside the country and peace with the bitter rival. In the early tenure, Khan had expressed a little disappointment in Indian PM Narendra Modi’s sincerity to resolve the issue.

Khan had said, “In the beginning, I thought that he had a huge majority, and this was a great time to be a statesman. He was in a great position to bring the countries together. I was a bit disappointed. But people change, they learn.”

Although Imran Khan has regularly made an attempt to urge India towards reconciliation, the consistent ‘fidayeen’ type attacks have perpetrated a mistrust where India is reluctant to buy the Pakistan PM’s narrative.

Pulwama, heightened tensions and mistrust

After the gruesome Pulwama attack, Khan urged Modi to “give peace a chance”, iterating he would “stand by his words” and immediately act if India provides actionable intelligence on the Pulwama terror attack where 40 CRPF personnel were killed in a suicide attack by Pakistan-based outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

Khan’s appeal was in response to Modi challenging his counterpart to act honourably and be a “Pathan’s son” and bring to the people behind the attack.

Tensions between the two nations heightened during the next two months as India re-elected Modi to the top office with an increased majority. The reinforcement of PM Modi as India’s choice of leadership, brought around a change in Imran’s tone when reaching out to a stronger Modi.

In the first conversation that followed torrid month which took the two nuclear superpowers to the brink of war, Khan congratulated Modi for winning in his country’s general election.

The Pakistan PM said he looked forward “for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia along with Modi, and added the Indian PM was best suited for the job.

Modi’s strong man stance and zero-tolerance policy

PM Modi has took up a strong stand against Pak-sponsored terrorism. How Modi is different from immediate predecessors Manmohan Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee is his decision to not relent in such situations where the power factor between the nations hangs in balance.

However, voices in India opine that there is still much left for India to do to ensure the end of terrorism and at the same time improve relations with Pakistan.

Leading defence analyst, Ajai Shukla argues that Indian military needs to achieve a new normal which deters Pakistan-backed terrorism in India with the threat of automatic military strikes.

PM Modi’s retaliation with Balakot airstrikes after Pulwama sets a stronger tone in India’s outlook towards cross-border terrorism.

By the end of his first term, PM Modi decided to take the tough stance against terrorism and subsequently relations with Pakistan. He has decided to avoid any talks with Khan until the issue of terrorism is completely out of the window.

The elections in India saw heightened national sentiment which gave PM Modi a never-before endorsement from the people as the man who knows how to tackle terrorism. So strong has been Modi’s view on zero-tolerance on terrorism, Khan had to release the Indian pilot who was caught by Pakistan army after his fighter jet crashed in its territory during the air strikes exchanged after the Pulwama incident.

PM Modi in one of his speeches during the election campaign had said, “There is consensus in the entire world against terrorism. We are moving ahead with strength to punish the perpetrators of terrorism… The scores will be settled this time, settled for good…This is a changed India, this pain will not be tolerated…We know how to crush terrorism.”

All eyes on the SCO

Modi has begun his second tenure keeping up his stance and relenting from any bilateral talks till Pakistan satisfies India on the cross-border terrorism issue. Modi is scheduled to meet as number of world leaders including Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit on the 13th and 14th in Kyrgyz Republic.

However, Pakistan PM Khan has been ignored by Modi, which was confirmed by MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar a few days ago, “No meeting is being organised between Prime Minister Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. There is nothing more that I can add at this stage,”

India is expected to raise the issue of terrorism and global security situation apart from multilateral economic cooperation. And with Khan completely ignored, Modi’s focus will inevitably be on issues which, without pointing a finger, focus on Pakistan.

Contentious issues are not the focus of the SCO, which instead bases value in greater scope of cooperation. Modi’s decision to skip talks, reiterates that the first step for any betterment in the relations is an honest willingness from Pakistan on ending terror-outfit patronage in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. And with no talks scheduled, the only give away for what the two leaders have in mind about future relationship will be the formal meet and greets sessions. Cameras will be watching and the expressions will be analysed.


  1. Modi has taken a strong stance and zero-tolerance policy against terrorism reiterating that his ‘changed’ India will move ahead and crush terrorism.
  2. Imran Khan has taken a softer strategy of appealing to Modi for peace, but has given no clear proof of acting against terror outfits in its territory.
  3. Khan tried to leverage the release of an Indian pilot caught in the aftermath of Pulwama whom Pakistan had to release due to international pressure.
  4. Modi has begun his second tenure keeping up his stance and relenting from any bilateral talks till Pakistan satisfies India on the cross-border terrorism issue.

By: Chitresh Sehgal, Senior Editor, Dkoding Media

DKODING Newsline

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