There is a need to restrain euphoric expectations from the positive statements on relations with India coming out of some mainstream Pakistani political leaders such as Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML—N).
Nawaz Sharif, in particular, has gone out of his way in befriending some of the Indian journalists covering the just-ended Pakistani election campaign and expressing his intention to improve relations with India and hold an enquiry into the Kargil military conflict of 1999, which, according o him, was initiated by Gen.Pervez Musharraf, the then Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), without his (Nawaz’s) knowledge.
Such statements have created unwarranted expectations of better India-Pakistan relations in sections of the Indian media.
The assessment in media circles in Pakistan is that the PML (N) may emerge as the largest single party in the elections being held on May 11 followed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) and the united front of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP), which have been viewed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as liberal parties and have been the targets of violent attacks by the TTP to disrupt their poll prospects.
Whoever comes out on top in the elections, the period after the elections will see competitive attempts to form a new coalition to rule the country. During the period of the coalition formation, foreign policy, except the policy towards the Afghan Taliban and on opposition to the US war on global terrorism, particularly the use of the Drone strikes by the US against targets in Pakistani territory, is expected to occupy a low priority.
Better relations with India will be a minefield. The sensitivities of the Army and the fundamentalist and jihadi organisations may have to be taken into consideration by the mainstream parties doing well in the elections before they take any major initiative for a policy change in a positive direction. They have to go very slow and keep down their enthusiasm. Better relations with India are, therefore, unlikely to be for tomorrow unless the PML (N) comes out with an absolute majority of its own.
India’s immediate policy interest ought to be not in the prospects for a quick improvement in the bilateral relations, but in the prospects for better internal stability and better internal security in Pakistan with a genuine control over the activities of the TTP, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) and other jihadi organisations.
India has had a contentious relationship with Pakistan ever since the two countries became independent in 1947. If this contentious relationship continues for some more years, we can live with it provided the new ruling dispensation in Pakistan shows the courage and foresight to take on the fundamentalist and jihadi organisations and defeat them in the interest of the people of Pakistan and at the same time persuade the Army to co-operate with the civilian leadership in this direction.
If and when the fundamentalist and jihadi organisations are removed from the scene, the obstacles in the way of better ties with India will get gradually diluted.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. Twitter : @SORBONNE75