When Narendra Modi dropped in on the day of Mian Nawaz Sharifs granddaughter’s wedding, he moved towards meeting a goal one had heard in 1999, from a retired Indian diplomat: that the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers should feel free to drop in on the others country whenever there was anything that needed to be talked about. Importantly, Modi did not come from his own capital, but from Kabul. It has been the primary focus of US interest in the region. It has been the USA which wants India and Pakistan to make peace and resolve outstanding issues, and has a role in the two countries talking. One of the recent changes has been that of the Pakistani National Security Adviser; no longer Sartaj Aziz, but now Lt Gen (retd) Nasir Janjua. However, the prominent figure cut by Sartaj Aziz as PMs foreign estate and affairs advisor was seen in this visit, when he was virtually in the eye of the storm.

One of the most important preceding events was the Heart of Asia Conference in Islamabad earlier in the month. It is interesting that the National Security Advisors met in Bangkok to pave the way for the Indian Foreign Minister to visit Islamabad, who in turn is suspected of paving the way for Modis visit. That visit, itself preceded by the sideline meeting of the two Prime Ministers at the Paris climate change conference, has given the output of secretary-level talks next month (the two Foreign Secretaries are now scheduled to meet on January 17).

It was more obvious at the Heart of Asia Conference that the prime beneficiary was the USA. It seemed designed for the USA to help India solve its problems with the USAs allies. The USA has got to find a balance between the old ally, Pakistan, and the new one, India. The crux of their relationship is Kashmir, but Afghanistan has also emerged as another battlefield between the two. Pakistans military had seen a lot of militants trained in Afghanistan in the period of Taliban rule, some of whom were used in Kashmir. The USA found that India was helpful in Afghanistan, through the Northern Alliance, which had fought the Taliban to the end, and which had been pro-Indian. Though Pakistan was kept out of Afghanistan by the Afghan government, the USA, though cosying up to India when it lost the USSR as its superpower of preference after its collapse, found it had to deal with Pakistan if it was to withdraw in good order from Afghanistan. The Ashraf Ghani government also found it hard to pursue this policy, because Pakistan not only was on Afghanistans southern and eastern borders, but was also the route through which access to India was possible.

It is therefore in the USAs interest to ensure that Pakistan and India come to a settlement, and if that settlement happens to be on Indias terms, that is not the USAs problem. Indeed, India has become increasingly powerful in the USA, because of the influence of Indian migrants, which has strengthened to the extent that an Indian-American, Bobby Jindal, was not only elected Governor of Louisiana, but also ran for the Republican presidential nomination. Though he withdrew, it seems to be significant because another Jindal, steel magnate Sajjan, is one of the names floating around when the negotiations for the visit are discussed.

Modi is in a bind, because the two planks on which he was elected seem to contradict each other, First, he is an old RSS karsevak, and thus a member of the Sangh Parivar, apart from being the BJP standardbearer, and as such fully committed to a chest-thumping kind of jingoistic nationalism, which finds its full expression in being anti- Muslim and anti-Pakistan. He also proclaimed that he would bring about economic prosperity. Apart from nationalism generally costing more because it means heightened defence expenditure, in this case, being anti-Pakistan means being opposed to Indian business interests which see profitability in increased Indo-Pak trade liberalization. It cannot be a coincidence that Sajjan Jindal’s father and Mian Nawaz’s father were establishing steel empires around the same time in their respective countries. Even if Sajjan Jindal had nothing to do with the talks, he and Mian Nawaz share in common their membership of the business community. Just as Mian Nawaz claims the support of the local business community, so does the BJP the Indians. Also, if the Nawaz government is underwritten by military support, the Modi government too has support among the Indian military.

Both the PML-N and the BJP face opposition in the search for peace. The problem is that the anti-peace constituencies are large, vociferous and well entrenched. These parties are considered more inimical to peace than their main opponents, respectively the PPP and the Congress. It is precisely because of these constituencies, that the Congress and PPP are obliged to take a jingoistic stance. However, it seems that a PML-N government is best placed to make peace, and that too with a BJP government in New Delhi, though the public displeasure of the Shiv Sena, on the surface a BJP ally, at the visit shows that both PMs still face opposition on the right. That Mian Nawaz has not, may well be evidence that the Pakistani military is on board.

While peace with India may reduce its right to rule, it not just fits in with the US wishes in the region, but also with the Chinese. While the story of Asia might be seen as a Sino-Indian rivalry ever since the dawn of civilization, there is also the factor of China wanting a stable north-west in the Indian Subcontinent. Pakistan may be crucial to the Chinese plans of a New Silk Route, but not a Pakistan whose north-west is disrupted by India (through Afghanistan) as well as its East (directly). Thus its peace overtures fit in with Chinese hopes as well as American. It must be remembered that the alliances with the USA and China are not only between states, but also between militaries, and thus while the military stands to lose some of its clout with the public if there is peace with India, it may well lose more with the USA (and China) if there isnt.

The peoples wishes may well be unattainable: the military acting as a bulwark against India, while maintaining the goodwill of both the USA and China, as well as the militarys special relationship with those two countries. The problem has been that the USA and to an extent China have reversed their traditional inimical attitudes to India. The TAPI gasline, which gives India a gasline link with Pakistan has to be seen in this context, not just as a substitute for the IPI gasline, which might proceed now that the sanctions against Iran are being lifted.

The Heart of Asia Conference claimed a victim, as the Afghan intelligence chief felt obliged to resign in protest at his Presidents tilt towards Pakistan. The Modi visit has not, but there is still a long road before the neighbours settle down into a relationship so friendly that one PM can drop in on the other unannounced.