"NO matter what the outcome of the elections, it will have no bearing on Indo-Pak relations," says Altaf Gauhar, former information secretary to Field Marshal Ayub Khan and former editor of The Muslim. While officials in the Pakistan foreign office agree with this assessment, they are clearly very apprehensive of the BJP coming to power. This party, they say, has the potential of posing serious problems to regional peace.
Gauhar, now a political and security analyst, feels: "The Congress, the BJP or any other ruling alliance, weak or strong, the new Indian government will stick to the same old hawkish policy on Kashmir and nuclear issues. The Indians are committed to keeping Kashmir an integral part of their country and becoming an unchecked nuclear power. They would even get away with holding bogus elections in Jammu and Kashmir. I have a feeling that the US, the only world power that's going to have an influence on the fate of Kashmir, would accept that electoral farce."
Kashmir and security issues dominate Pakistani thinking on Indian elections. "No matter which party comes to power in India, it should abide by international commitments on issues like Kashmir and nuclear non-proliferation," is the reply when foreign office officials are asked to comment.
Given the nature of relations between the two countries, the prospects of a new government in New Delhi always cause unease in Pakistani official circles. Privately, officials make all kinds of conjectures and express apprehensions. It is generally believed that the Indian elections would see a three-way tussle between the Congress, the BJP and the National Front-Left Front combine. Despite being cautious in predicting the outcome, officials argue: "The likely minority or a coalition government would be inherently unstable and hence shortlived."
However, they do not hide their reservations about the BJP's election manifesto: "If you look at their manifesto, it is not difficult to say that a government led by the BJP could turn out to be not only a threat to Indian Muslims but also to other Islamic countries. Pakistan is certainly going to highlight this anti-minority posture of the BJP, particularly if the Muslims are going to be maltreated in India." The BJP's announcement that it would build the Ram temple, pursue the missile programme and make India a declared nuclear state also causes apprehensions in Islamabad, leading to fears about an acceleration in the arms race.
Most importantly, from Pakistan's point of view, the BJP's electoral vow to eliminate Article 370, which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir, is taken very seriously by the foreign office here. "It's going to be difficult to implement this promise since any government would require two-thirds majority to achieve this objective. But still it speaks of the Kashmir policy of the BJP. That means they give two hoots to India's pledges to the international community and also that they want further confrontation by hardening their stand vis-a-vis Pakistan."
Khalid Mehmood, editor of the English daily The Nation, also says that regardless of which party or coalition comes to power, there isn't going to be any decisive policy shift. "Unless there occurs a dramatic and radical change in the domestic political scene, I don't see the possibility of a major change in the approach of the Indian decision-makers," he notes.
But Mehmood is certain that the BJP will not be able to muster a majority. "The only issue on which they could have achieved this objective was the anti-corruption plank," he opines. "But now with L.K. Advani having been exposed, that edge is gone. However, I do not subscribe to the view that a BJP or Janata Dal victory would make any difference to Indo-Pak relations. They will follow the present policies if they form a government. For example, Atal Behari Vajpayee acted completely contrary to policies espoused by his party at present when he was foreign minister."