President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India during their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The recent trips to the United States by Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi provide ample evidence of India’s and Pakistan’s divergent trajectories. Nawaz arrived with no fanfare, a known commodity in familiar trouble back home. He delivered a lackluster speech at the U.N. General Assembly notable only for dwelling on Kashmir, which has always been a harmful issue for Pakistan. Nawaz met with Vice President Biden in New York along with a few foreign leaders (at their request), and then left for home, where he faces unrelenting political opposition.
Modi arrived in New York as an ambitious, contentious, and intriguing figure with an electoral mandate to revive India’s fortunes. He spoke proudly in Hindi, promised much with few specifics, and met with a rapturous crowd of Indian-Americans at Madison Square Garden. Then on to the White House, long meetings with President Obama, and a fancy dinner during which the guest of honor fasted.
Love him or hate him, Modi is a charismatic leader who has everyone’s attention. Pakistan has previously been led by a charismatic leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who disappointed badly. Nawaz does not need charisma – he needs to rouse himself to lead, or step aside to let his most capable Party members do their best to reverse the country’s decline. If he is incapable of both, Pakistan could find itself with another charismatic figure unable to govern effectively. One of Nawaz’s primary tormentors has withdrawn his parliamentarians rather than offering new legislative initiatives. The other calls for a revolution.
Modi offers hope to his electorate and to the Indian diaspora. Nawaz’s record does not engender hope. Modi and Obama signed off on a vision statement. Nawaz has always lacked vision. He builds motorways, but to his credit, he is doing more to improve power generation than the previous, lackluster civilian government. The U.S.-India joint statement was suffused with promises. U.S.-Pakistan relations can do without lofty promises, since the past is littered with them. It will suffice if both Pakistan and the United States can work in tandem through the difficult security dilemmas they have co-created.
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