Will PML-N bring new hope for Indo-Pak ties?

India has stakes in peaceful and democratic Pakistan. New Delhi’s approach will help stabilise democracy.

Sanjay Kumar May 21, 2013
The fact that Mian Nawaz Sharif is certain to take oath as the prime minister of Pakistan in early June and that the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) will exchange places with the outgoing government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the National Assembly, is all part of a smooth democratic transition in Pakistan’s history as an independent nation invites hopes at many fronts.

It gives hope of a new Pakistan where the people’s voice will have predominance and elected representatives will be supreme.

There is overwhelming optimism that the democratic dividends will also reflect in India and Pakistan's relationship. The very fact that the manifestos of all the major political parties talk of taking the relationship between the two countries to a next level speaks volumes about the current mindset in Pakistan about the need to redefine the relationship between the two South Asian republics.

New Delhi has also been watching very keenly the political transition in its volatile neighbourhood. Indian media has been full of the coverage of the elections in Pakistan. The curiosity was natural; India wondered whether Islamabad would be able to break the past jinx and create a new history. It was really a welcome relief for us that our neighbour has managed to achieve a new feat in its history.

How will the change in Pakistan help in redefining and reshaping the tie between Islamabad and New Delhi? Will India recognise the overwhelming mood in its neighbourhood for a good relationship?

Just days before the election results were out, the larger Indian media was full of anti-Pakistan stories and indulged in jingoism in the aftermath of the Sarabjit episode. It was calling Pakistan names and wanted the Indian government to go slow in its relationship with the Islamic neighbour.

Now a new mood pervades the popular consciousness in India towards Pakistan.

The new mood comes in the wake of the incumbent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s post-election statements expressing his desire to revive the process of engagement started in late 1990s when he was the prime minister. He talked of deepening economic ties with the largest economy of South Asia and  spoke of better connectivity between the two nations.

For many Indian experts, who think of themselves as the authority on South Asia whose words have easy access to several leading publications in the country, have, however, expressed reservations and qualified the normalisation of relationship to the control of religious fundamentalism in Pakistan. They also say that the civilian government in Pakistan cannot make a move without the approval of Rawalpindi.

On the contrary, political leadership in India has shown keen interest in the regime change and expressed desire to re-energise the relationship which has become a victim of prejudices and jingoism as of late. The very fact that Dr Manmohan Singh has been informally invited to attend the swearing in ceremony in Islamabad speaks volume about the developing chemistry between the two nations.

So why does one need to be optimistic about the Indo-Pak relationship despite the scepticism from the established experts?

There is a growing realisation in Pakistan that deeper economic engagement with the eastern neighbour is in the interest of the nation. The media and opinion makers believe that time has come when the relationship should be judged from the parameters of modern day needs and aspirations rather than from the prism of past prejudices. The Islamic Republic understands that its rejuvenation lies not in animosity but in economics - a close economic interaction.

Sharif voices this feeling. He talks about road connectivity from Kabul to Kolkata, easy mobility through Wagah border and greater people-to-people contact. The very fact a South Asian leader talks of such ideas demonstrates a changing mindset and greater pragmatism.

This noble intent can translate into reality only when India responds positively. There is no denying the fact that New Delhi has shown greater rigidity and lack of understanding in dealing with Pakistan than other way round. Whether it be the case of border skirmishes few months ago or recent Sarabjit episode, India’s conduct has not been mature. Our media and urban middle class have provoked the hardliners instead of tempering their reaction.

The huge peace constituency on both sides of the border gets slighted by jingoistic media and this does not serve the interest of the subcontinent. Therefore, India, as a big nation and an old democracy, will have to show greater maturity and magnanimity in dealing with Pakistan. Greater economic ties between the two largest neighbours will help reduce poverty and backwardness in the region.

Religious fundamentalism finds a breeding ground among the illiterate and poor. Greater economic ties also lead to greater political understanding. The example is China. New Delhi and Beijing share a long-held border dispute; skirmishes and political bickering are very normal at the ill-defined border, but the hard reality is that both the countries have deep economic engagement with each other. Despite having political differences Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, has chosen India as the destination for his first ever foreign trip after assuming office. He has brought a huge business delegation with himself.

It is this pragmatism that is needed in India-Pakistan relationship. The media and civil society have to play a proactive role in bringing both the nations together.

India has stakes in peaceful and democratic Pakistan. New Delhi’s approach will play a greater role in stabilising the fledgling democracy in its neighbourhood. A belligerent attitude and constant harping on old issues will only strengthen those anti democratic and anti India forces which do not want normalisation of relations with New Delhi.

It’s going to be a great historic transition for Pakistan - a new leap of faith. India should be a partner and a stakeholder of Pakistan at this moment of history.

Read more by Sanjay here, or follow him on Twitter @destinydefier
Sanjay Kumar The author is a New Delhi based journalist covering South Asian and international politics. He tweets as @destinydefier (https://twitter.com/destinydefier).
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