Pakistan has begun ‘back-channel diplomacy’ with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is all set to form the next government in India, in an effort to improve ties between the two neighbours, officials told The Express Tribune on Sunday.
Pakistan’s High Commissioner in New Delhi Abdul Basit has quietly been in contact with the BJP to convey Islamabad’s willingness for ‘meaningful engagement’ with the new government, they said. The names of the BJP leaders whom the Pakistani envoy has been in contact with were not revealed due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Insiders disclosed that the Pakistani diplomat delivered a message on behalf of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government that it was ready for a ‘new beginning’ with the BJP administration despite strong public posturing against Pakistan by India’s prime minister-in-waiting Narendra Modi during his election campaign.
A source familiar with the development said the BJP leadership was informed that the current government in Pakistan was following a policy of ‘economic development and peaceful neighbourhood’. Given its policy, the administration in Islamabad wants to engage with the BJP government in meaningful and result-oriented dialogue.
The source said that the Foreign Office (FO) seems optimistic of a positive development after initial contacts with the BJP. It was because of ongoing backdoor diplomacy that Prime Minister Nawaz promptly telephoned Modi to congratulate him over his election victory, he added.
The hardline BJP’s unprecedented win has led to fears that the new government in India may take a tough stance towards Pakistan.
However, Prime Minister’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said BJP’s clear majority could help New Delhi in taking ‘decisive and positive’ decisions. He added that the government was optimistic about the relationship with India as the BJP’s manifesto was economy driven and sought good ties with neighbors. “We also have the same policy, so there is a point of convergence on this issue at least,” the adviser told a private TV channel in its first reaction to BJP’s victory.
Another FO official told The Express Tribune that Pakistan was ready to resume the normalisation process with the new government in India provided it was willing to move forward.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said the ‘package’ was ready and Pakistan would approach New Delhi as soon the new administration was installed there.
The official said that a lot of homework had already been done to liberalise trade and increase people-to-people contact between the two countries. “But at the moment we will wait and watch,” he added saying it was premature to predict anything at this stage.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2014.