Election watchers in Pakistan realise that much would depend on the extent of the BJP’s mandate and who its allies would be in an expected coalition government

Pakistanis have been watching the election scene in India with considerable trepidation. The intellectual elite and some sections of the media are aware that détente has progressed better whenever strong leadership has existed in both countries. However, an almost visceral dislike of Narendra Modi seems to blur perspectives, not only on account of the 2002 Gujarat riots but also in expectation of a turn towards ultra-nationalism, accompanied by chest-thumping, anti-Pakistani belligerence and a revival of Hindutva politics.

Observing that the umbrella secular vote, normally spearheaded by the Congress, has come under severe strain mainly because of anti-incumbency, analysts question whether there will be a new articulation of ‘post-Nehruvian centrism,’ leading to an embrace of the unfettered market model of ‘Modinomics.’ Doubts have been raised over whether this will lead to exclusivism or provide a mask for religious supremacism. While acknowledging the impact of Indian Muslims as an aspirational community in at least 110 out of 543 Lok Sabha seats, they are depicted as fragilely trying to negotiate space between victimhood and tokenism, without benefitting adequately from opportunities for education, employment or material security.

What India needs to understand

Pakistanis hope that decision-makers in the new Indian government would try to understand that Pakistan has changed in the last five years. As was observable in the 2013 election campaign, its parliamentary mainstream no longer claims to think obsessively about India. Democrats across the political spectrum in Pakistan want better regional co-operation in future, premised on mutually beneficial terms of trade, though they believe trade alone will not alter the baggage of the past.

There is a need to correctly assess the nuances of political transitions underway in Pakistan. These include the rise of a ‘nativised,’ right-of-centre bourgeoisie that occupies urban space, the emergence of newly empowered religio-political groups and a changing balance of power between institutions of state.

Pervez Musharraf’s indictment reveals that the military’s undisputed dominance may be eroding. Even its interference in the trade policy has to be seen in this light. From being a hegemon, the military may have become a veto player, still capable of influencing major decisions with regard to crucial issues of security and foreign policy. This is a major shift in Pakistan’s politics but transition to complete civilian supremacy may take a while.

An erstwhile partner of military dictators, Pakistan’s judiciary has asserted an independent stance for a while now, not hesitating to drag ubiquitous ‘agencies’ of state to court to explain disappearance of missing persons. Sadly, this has not been accompanied by alacrity to bring radical Islamic militants, including the seven arrested terrorists implicated in the Mumbai attacks of November, 2008, to book. Though this causes enough embarrassment or even introspection in the establishment, public opinion in Pakistan finds it difficult to counter frequent or repeated criticism from India on this account. Neither do Pakistani politicians and the media react well to macho, high-octane rhetoric from India, either in response to domestic posturing in Pakistan on Kashmir or international border incidents.

While it would be naïve to expect too much to change too quickly, election watchers in Pakistan realise that much would depend on the extent of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s mandate and who its allies would be in an expected coalition government. They assess, however, that regional coalition partners may not substantially impact the formulation of policies by the new government. There is a view, though, that compulsions of a rightist political lineage may force a BJP government to reverse ongoing peace initiatives or escalate tensions in Kashmir.

How then should relationships be forged with the new dispensation? How would Pakistan react to a possible policy of complete neglect — benign or otherwise? No easy answers appear evident at this stage. The way forward may have to be found through a mix of middle-of-the-road approaches accommodating reasonable expectations with respect to long-pending or contentious bilateral issues. Gradual visa relaxations for selected categories, easing of barter lists in cross-border trade, and opening up of more village-level meeting points and routes as between Kargil and Skardu are ways forward. While Mr. Modi’s stated inflexibility on Sir Creek is noted, retired Pakistani defence services personnel on Track II dialogues point to recent flexibility, through new joint surveys of the disputed land border, re-location of missing boundary pillars and exchange of non-papers including maps of old maritime boundary claims. These have brought considerable clarity in respective positions. India still relies on the median line principle, especially with respect to the base point from where the maritime boundary would be delineated. Give and take is possible to resolve this ‘low hanging’ dispute if political will can be built up, avoiding media hype to interpret this as a win or loss for one side or the other.

For some time now, especially after the Gyari avalanche in April 2012, Pakistan has been quite keen to resolve the Siachen dispute. This again signals a new flexibility in erstwhile military positions through Track II mediatory contacts, for possible agreement to a way forward. However, since then, the Indian position has hardened with strategists holding that control of the Siachen/Saltoro heights are not only technologically affordable now but tactically and strategically a desirable objective in the context of evolving threats from China.

State sponsorship of terror

Peace-loving Pakistanis acknowledge that any new subversive attacks from across the border on the Mumbai 26/11 model could elicit a much more drastic reaction from a BJP government. They know these are usually undertaken by terrorist outfits — support to whom the Pakistani military may not be ready to give up just yet, despite more serious domestic threats which it faces from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. There is grudging awareness that while these outfits can be curbed by the Army/Inter-Services Intelligence, they do enjoy certain clout in civil society. It may take more for civil society pressures to work from within to promote introspection and forsake use of such asymmetric options by the military.

If this does not happen, security mechanisms and the counter-terror grid in India would have to be honed further. Personal security threats to VIPs would continue. There can be no scope for complacency. Without lowering its guard on security in the homeland, the Indian establishment may have to think long and hard about evolving better covert responses to terror modules in a calibrated manner.

(Rana Banerji is former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat and Visiting Professor, Pakistan Studies Programme, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.)

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