Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has congratulated Nawaz Sharif, whose party won the most seats in the recent Parliamentary elections in Pakistan. His strategic policy managers heaved a sigh of relief over the relatively decisive mandate because this was the second item on India’s wishlist. The first was parties contesting the elections in Pakistan not bringing India on their agendas.
In his congratulatory message, the Prime Minister especially took note of the high voting, despite the almost continuous violence that scarred campaigning for the elections.
The Prime Minister also expressed New Delhi’s desire to work with the new government of Pakistan in charting a new course for the relationship. He also invited Mr. Sharif to visit India at a mutually convenient time.
Bilateral ties between India and Pakistan had stalled late last year over security issues — the hanging of Kashmiri separatist Afzal Guru and Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab, a skirmish that ended with the beheading of an Indian soldier, and the beating to death of two prisoners in each other’s jails.
The Prime Minister’s security managers felt the clear mandate would make it much easier to work with Islamabad in building up a bilateral relationship. But it would be ideal if the new government was more in control of security and foreign policy issues.
The sources had in mind the Mumbai attacks of 2008 and the Kargil attack almost a decade earlier, both under the watch of democratic governments in Pakistan. These attacks completely roiled the delicate political and diplomatic attempts at mending bilateral fences. Between Kargil and Mumbai, public mood towards Pakistan was soured, as the police blamed many of the bomb blasts on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The government feels that India’s vastly improved political, military and economic balance with Pakistan has removed anxieties in dealing with Islamabad. But doubts about Pakistan’s Deep State charting an independent path persist.
At the same time, New Delhi is also conscious that Mr. Sharif did not surrender to the attraction of deposing the Zardari-controlled government by aligning with the military when a couple of chances arose. It feels this approach could promise political stability in Islamabad provided Pakistan People’s Party returns the gesture when Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) faces similar moments of political vulnerability.
As for Mr. Sharif’s partiality toward the religious right wing, official sources wished to differentiate between the purely political and those opting for violent jehad. The parties of the religious right were part of the PML(N) “bandwagon” — these parties gathered around PML(N) because of their dislike for the grouping of largely secular parties that ruled Islamabad for the past five years, they rationalised.