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Indian Elections and the Implications for Pakistan: Kashmir, SAARC, Afghanistan at Stake

Who wins the election in India, and forms its next government, is of critical interest to Pakistan especially after the recent Pulwama attack and tensions between two countries as a result of it, says an article published in The Diplomat.

“The recent escalation following the Pulwama attack and subsequent hostile engagement between India and Pakistan has raised the importance of the Indian election in Pakistan. Pakistan will be keenly interested on May 23 whether the BJP will be able to retain its government, even with a coalition of regional parties, or if an anti-BJP alliance will triumph,” says the article.

According to the writer says opinion polls suggest that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will retain power but without a clear majority, thus requiring a coalition to form government.

The article further mentions that anyone who comes in power in India will affect its relationship with Pakistan and the approach that the incoming Indian government takes on all the outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir.

Moreover, the Indo-Pak relations will also structure the future of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), given that Narendra Modi refused to attend the 19th SAARC summit in Islamabad back in 2016, which ultimately led to a regional boycott.

“Simultaneously, the Indian election holds significance with regard to recent developments in Afghanistan.”

About the PTI government in Pakistan, it says Imran Khan has already thrown support behind the incumbent BJP.

Imran believes that the possibility of achieving peace is more likely to materialise with the BJP in power – a thinking rooted in the previous Pakistani interactions with the BJP politicians (particularly Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 1999 Lahore visit and the failed Agra summit of 2001).

“However, both these initiatives proved to be short-lived because of the Kargil conflict and the Indian Parliament attack in December 2001, respectively,” it says.

Imran also thinks that a Congress-led government, on the other hand, would be too apprehensive to pursue peace in anticipation of a possible backlash from right-wing elements.

Indian Elections, Hopes And Fears: A View From Pakistan

The article also mentions the contrast between the manifestos of BJP and Congress with respect to Pakistan.

“While the BJP’s election manifesto remains silent on the future course of the relationship with Pakistan,” but the National Security Strategy incorporated in Congress’ election manifesto, says the article suggests diplomatic and economic isolation of Pakistan, unilateral, limited military action against “terror groups” inside Pakistan when needed, structured dialogue process whose progress should be conditioned with visible results and serious dialogue between two countries on nuclear issues.

But despite the Imran’s stance, the article says, “Modi’s first-term track record indicates that high hopes should not be attached to his second term regarding possible positive engagement between the two neighbouring countries.”

“Despite a few positive gestures like inviting Nawaz Sharif for Modi’s swearing-in ceremony and the surprise Lahore stopover on Christmas Day 2015, anti-Pakistan hostility has increased significantly under the BJP’s rule,” it adds.

About the possibility of some positive developments, the article says a meaningful breakthrough between two neighbouring countries is only likely to be achieved in the early months of the future Indian government, “sans a major militant attack in Indian-administered Kashmir or terror attack in mainland India.”

According to the writer, with Pakistani authorities involved in a crackdown of anti-India militant outfits, the onus of breaking the deadlock for peace talks now lies with the future Indian government.

“The impasse can be broken only by addressing all the issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, with a sense of maturity. Consequently, both countries not only can benefit economically but can transform South Asia, which is one of the least integrated regions of the world, into a regional economic hub.”

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