The election of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as India's future Prime Minister has sent mixed signals in the immediate neighborhood. Countries like Pakistan, China, Nepal and Afghanistan will be affected by changes in India's foreign policy that will be announced by the new government. His campaign manifesto included pledges for a more muscular foreign policy, vowing a re-think of India's no-first strike nuclear policy and a hard line on Kashmir.
Such rhetoric had raised concern among some observers that another Mumbai-style attack planned on Pakistani soil could push the two countries into all out war. The government of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was charged with several cases of serious corruption and misappropriation of funds in the national exchequer. The people of India have voted for Narendra Modi because his party, the BJP carried a message of change. Change from corruption, mismanagement, inflation towards progress and development. The election of Modi has raised the concerns of India's 150 million strong Muslim community, because of the dismal track record of human rights violations, communal riots and killings of one thousand people, mostly Muslims in Modi's home state of Gujrat, twelve years ago.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is himself a centre-right leader, has hailed Modi's “impressive victory” which saw the hardliner gain an outright majority in India's parliament for the first time in 30 years.
Sharif has cited his working relationship with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's last Prime Minister with the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a reason for optimism, according to diplomatic sources.
It was during Sharif's second term in 1999 that Vajpayee rode a bus to Lahore to sign a peace accord, raising the prospect for normalization between the two-nuclear armed neighbors that have fought three wars.
With both leaders currently enjoying a strong mandate Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) won a big majority in elections last year members of parliament and experts say the stalled peace process could get fresh impetus.
Sherry Rehman, a member of parliament for the opposition Pakistan People's Party and former Ambassador to the United States, told AFP: “The blockbuster numbers should give Modi the parliamentary muscle and confidence to work with Pakistan for stability in the region.
“If his policies are driven by economy, then Pakistan would find it easier to do business with Modi's India, but the ball is in India's court.“
The future of relations between Pakistan and India rests upon the foreign policy changes that the new government proposes. Following are some observations:
1. If Narendra Modi's government is driven by the right-wing nationalists who are bitterly opposed to normalization of relations with Pakistan, then establishment of durable peace in South Asia will remain as elusive as ever.
2. If the election slogans for taking tougher stands with Pakistan on the key issue of Kashmir, the nuclear first strike option, water distribution and other irritants are adopted as real options, then India's promised path to economic progress will be driven by greater allocation to the defense budget. This would mean that more than one billion population of India will not be able to release itself from the clutches of poverty, disease and social inequality.
3. Pakistan would find itself in a new quandary if it starts to confront an elevated military threat on its eastern border with India, in addition to an already troubled border situation with Afghanistan.
4. It is time for the new Indian government to extend a hand of friendship towards Pakistan, as soon as it is sworn in. Establishment and extension of strong, friendly relations with Pakistan are to India's advantage and interest. Modi must respond positively to Pakistan's message of hope and aspiration for better ties, expressed by his counterpart on his election victory.
5. Countries like the United States, China and the Western Europe, who enjoy fraternal relations with both countries have urged India on more than one occasion to “bury the hatchet” and embark on a course of good neighborly relations with Pakistan.
6. Both countries should start a process of dialogue and peace building, by opening up all channels of communication. With the visit of Modi to Pakistan after taking over, followed by his counterpart to India, the governments, security and intelligence agencies should fully cooperate to jointly fight extremism and terrorism on their borders.
7. Bilateral trade based on equal profit sharing, access of businessmen and financial experts through visa facilities, free trade, imports and exports on fair terms, banking and opening new business incentives will usher in a new era of prosperity for people of both countries.
Pakistan and India are democratic countries, whose leaders are elected by the masses to alleviate their suffering in all spheres of life. When elected leaders backed by massive national support are not able to bring peace and security, then democracy seems to have failed in its true essence. Pakistan and India stand a golden opportunity to embrace each other and prove that in their unity lies their true strength. To be honest, India needs to take the first step in this direction, as Pakistan has desperately waited offering India peace and reconciliation from time to time. India will find Pakistan a very eager partner in its journey of political and economic progress.
Dawn News May 19, 2014