Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his address to the nation has once again stressed the need for peaceful relations with India. Indeed, even a cursory analysis of relations between the two countries at this point in time reveals a restrained approach by Pakistan despite instigation to the contrary as the Indian media goes viral over allegations of ceasefire violations and killings of soldiers. Pakistan consistently refers to the recent election of Sharif and his desire for peace with India, citing both, his current overtures, as well as his good intentions on the matter during his last tenure before it was pulled out of his hands with the Kargil fiasco.
It is no secret then that Pakistan’s civilian government wants peace, but there are clearly other variables to consider, such as the impending US withdrawal from Afghanistan and what this could mean for the regional balance vis-a-vis India and Pakistan. That the Pakistan military will increasingly be on its own along the country’s western border is expected, but with India’s extended influence in Afghanistan and its flexing of muscles along its eastern border, a decline of the threat perception and refocusing of the military away from this border remains unlikely, notwithstanding Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s observation that the real threat Pakistan faces is internal.
While we may now have a ‘democratically-elected’ leader with a desire for peace and much of the population pushing for better relations with India, the other side of the coin is what India wants. The signs from that end, despite Manmohan Singh’s relatively controlled approach, seem ominous. Democratic India seems lost, and all the fervour constantly generated against Pakistan, and the fact that Narendra Modi is being seriously touted as one of the BJP’s main prime ministerial candidates, is worrying. As some of the voters who claim to favour Modi do so in what appears to be a response to the massive corruption now associated with the Congress, it seems as if the direction vacuum in India may deliberately or inadvertently be filled by anti-Pakistan sentiments, seen increasingly as Indians asks for ‘fitting retorts’ on alleged violations across the Line of Control (LoC). Modi is no Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as was apparent in his attacking Manmohan Singh for being too soft on Pakistan in his Independence Day speech. Indeed, when it comes to his stance on Muslims, the Gujarat massacres immediately spring to mind. If he is eventually chosen as the BJP’s candidate and comes to power, what will matter to Pakistan will not be how effective his governance style is, but what this will mean for relations between the two countries.
If Modi does indeed become India’s prime minister, one can, of course, hope that he will bring to the fore, the best of himself, as he takes the office of prime minister of the largest democracy in the world, and that despite his lack of an apology, the Gujarat riots and all they symbolised are left behind. But Modi’s stance on Muslims appears to be an integral part of how he’s perceived. While some pundits predict that he will have the mandate to reciprocate Sharif’s advances and may do so, it is difficult to disassociate Modi with the past. BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy just recently said that “a situation is now evolving in which the nation has no alternative but to have Modi as PM to teach Pakistan a lesson”. Rudy’s statement made clear just what Modi stands for in the minds of the people when it comes to relations between the two countries.
What is most worrying, perhaps, is what the Indian media and voters’ — so far — apparent consideration of Modi as prime minister means. For what Hindu extremism can do to India, it need only look across the border and witness the havoc wrought by religious extremism. Is India priming itself for a stronger communal, anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan stance, even as Islamabad looks for a lasting peace to settle things on its eastern border?
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2013.