February 22, 2020
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A Mirror Shines Back

Hawks prefer the BJP's plainspeak to covert policies; others say it's a recipe for inflammation

A Mirror Shines Back

WITH the BJP on the threshold of assuming power at Raisina Hill, there is a strange sense of relief in Pakistan. Some observers are deriving vicarious satisfaction from the expectation that the saffron brigade will finally expose the "true colours of Hindustan".

Pakistani defence expert Shirin Mazari articulates a widely held view: "This will be very good for us because Indian designs will come out in the open. New Delhi will now openly be speaking about issues which matter to Pakistan, rather than carrying on covertly as previous governments did. Especially where nuclear weapons are concerned, once the BJP comes out in the open about them, pressure will be off Pakistan and the duplicity of the Indian programme will be exposed to the international community."

Politicians agree. Says Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, former prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir: "Things will come out clearer now. Dealing with the hardline BJP will be a lot easier."

 Of course, what Islamabad is most interested in is a BJP-led government's intentions about the Indo-Pak talks, which were resumed with much fanfare but have been on the backburner for some time now. "The future of the talks will not only depend on the BJP but on Pakistan also," concedes Asfandyar Wali Khan, leader of the Awami National Party, the second largest opposition group in the National Assembly.

 As for Kashmir, Mazari says that apprehensions that the situation in the Valley will deteriorate under a BJP regime are unfounded. "The conditions there cannot get any worse than they were under a Congress government. How much further will the BJP go as far as the atrocities being inflicted on the Kashmiris are concerned?" she asks.

Adds Jamaat-i-Islami chief Qazi Hussein Ahmed: "Kashmir is the core issue towards which the Indian leadership has been biased enough to threaten regional peace." His advice to the next government: "Let a new era begin by allowing the people of Kashmir the right to self-determination."

The official reaction is naturally more tempered. Contends information minister and advisor to prime minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign policy, Syed Mushahid Hussain: "We don't care whether India is ruled by Rome or by Ram. We will put in our best efforts to improve bilateral ties, but without making any compromise on our principled stand on the Kashmir issue."

 The Pakistani foreign office is categorical that it would be ready to do business with any government which comes to power in New Delhi and has not been provoked by Atal Behari Vajpayee's recent statement vowing to take back Pakistani Kashmir, dismissing it as election gimmickry and jingoism. It also dismissed Vajpayee's claim that Kashmir was an integral part of India. Says foreign minister Gohar Ayub Khan: "We will be very comfortable with any government, more so with a government that has a stated view on issues." While warning the saffron brigade of a "swift and a telling reply" if they engage in any "misadventure", he nonetheless notes that the BJP is likely to soften its hardline stance for fear of losing its coalition allies.

But there is no denying that the BJP's nuclear agenda has aroused misgivings. Says state minister at the for- AFP eign office, Siddique Khan Kanju: "Although Islamabad would want to keep South Asia nuclear weapon-free, the BJP manifesto would inevitably call for a reappraisal of our policy in the interest of the nation's security and sovereignty. "

 His colleague and chairman of the Parliament's Kashmir Committee, Muhammad Sarwar, however feels that with the BJP taking a hard line on Kashmir, the outcome could be another war. In fact, former army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg, who now heads a political outfit called the Awami Qiadat Party, has already advised the government to deploy more troops on the border.

And the hardline newspaper, The Nation, cautioned the government on its soft line. "The foreign office should have made the distinction and either withheld its comments or said that we are quite capable of defending Azad Kashmir. Saying we are willing to talk to someone who is not willing to talk and who in fact wants to impose war on us has done no service to the image of this country," it commented. "Why talk?" questions Ejaz-ul-Haq, son of former president Zia-ul-Haq. "They (India) are engaged in an undeclared war against us."

 There is widespread agreement that a BJP government would not only be unstable, what with contradictory pressures from its electoral partners, but it will also tend to eschew rhetoric once it is in the seat of power. "The BJP is slowly modifying its statements. I do not think the BJP will go overtly nuclear. They will find some excuse to retract from their election stand. We're already seeing certain levels of moderation in some policies," says Nishat Ahmed, head of the Institute of Regional Studies in Islamabad.

Indeed, even intellectuals are awaiting the formation of a BJP government with a sense of impatience. It is argued that Islamabad will have an easier time doing business with 'hawks' in the BJP as there will be "no soft-pedalling on issues which worry Pakistan". Public opinion has it that the BJP will have less problems than its predecessors while taking "harsh and unpleasant" decisions on Kashmir and the nuclear programme.

Says columnist Ikram Sehgal: "Pakistan would be much happier with a BJP regime. At least we would know where we stand visa-vis India. And after years of labelling Muslims as fanatics, it would be interesting to see how the West copes with Hinduism's caste-ridden, viciously parochial society where human beings are not considered equal. A BJP government would show the proponents of the Hindutva movement for the extremists that they are and de-mask the face of rabid nationalism based on religious obduracy of the most blatant kind."

Senior journalist Ahmed Rashid is not that optimistic about dealing with a BJP government: "Good neighbourliness will go completely out of the window if the hawkish BJP assumes power." Fears which are brushed aside as irrelevant by human rights activist and political analyst Aziz Siddiqui: "Pakistan and India have not enjoyed friendly relations previously. And no development is likely in the near future."

 But there are many in Pakistan who do not hide their apprehensions about a BJP-led coalition government. "The BJP's manifesto says that India will be made a nuclear weapon power. This is vastly different from India's present stand. It also commits India to pursue a missile development and deployment programme. This will be a serious setback to the non-proliferation regime and lead to an escalation of tension and nuclear arms race in the region," says a spokesman for Benazir Bhutto's PPP. He adds that the assertion in the BJP's manifesto that Kashmir's special status should be ended will only aggravate tensions with Islamabad.

All this begs a rethink on Indo-Pak ties. Says former foreign secretary Abdul Sattar: "A provident approach on our part would be to concentrate on what should be our strategy to contain, and contend with, the challenges if a BJP government proceeds to translate its pledges into policy and actions. We have to defend Azad Kashmir. More rigorous thinking is needed on the nuclear and missiles issues. What if India declares itself a nuclear weapon power or conducts another nuclear bomb test? Viable options within Pakistan's constrained circumstances need to be contemplated and developed." Therein lies the test for the political and bureaucratic establishment.

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