Parliamentary elections in India are never bereft of melodrama. The current one – probably amongst the most fiercely fought – is especially so, with a large number of personal attacks and all parties being equally guilty. While initially the Pakistan factor was not very important, with the occasional reference to Pakistan by BJPs PM candidate, Narendra Modi, whereby Modi accused the current Congress led UPA regime of being soft on Pakistan – the most common jibe being that the government indulges in Biryani Diplomacy with Pakistan. The other interesting reference to Pakistan was when a BJP leader, Giriraj Singh stated that all those individuals opposed to Narendra Modi should be sent to Pakistan. All this rhetoric against Pakistan was noticed, but dismissed as electoral politics, where emotions are often whipped up it was not taken seriously. In fact only a few days ago, the Pakistan High Commissioner to India expressed hope that a Modi-led BJP Government would give a much needed push to bilateral ties between both countries.
An interview to a Gujarati Channel on Saturday (April 26), where Modi spoke about the need for getting underworld fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim, the mastermind of the Mumbai 1993 terror attacks from Pakistan, resulted in the domestic slug fest being converted into a cross-border war of words. It has raised the heckles in Pakistan, with the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali stating that India should not cross the line and mistake Pakistan’s desire for peace as weakness. Nisar also stated that if elected as PM, Modi would destabilize peace in the region. Nisar’s remarks received a strong response from both the BJP and the Congress: while the BJP said that Pakistan should not meddle in India’s internal affairs, the Congress Party stated that Pakistan should hand over Dawood. Significantly, Nisar’s statement was followed by a statement on May 1, by the army chief General Raheel Shareef, where he said that Kashmir is Pakistan’s jugular vein.
While there is not an iota of doubt that every country has to defend its interests, it is important for responsible political leaders on both sides to act in a responsible manner; that the only beneficiaries of tensions between both countries are either the hardliners and the military in Pakistan, or a fringe section within India. Civilian parties in Pakistan have all been making efforts for a more harmonious relationship with India, this is clearly manifest not just in the strong overtures made by the earlier Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) regime in the realm of trade, and subsequent statements and efforts of current government led by Nawaz Sharif, but also the fact, that anti-India propaganda was not existent in the last election. Efforts of governments in Pakistan have off course been reciprocated by AB Vajpayee as well as Dr Manmohan Singh, in spite of hiccups. Indian general elections, aside from 1999 in the immediate aftermath of the Kargil conflict, have been bereft of the war mongering. Even the 2009 election did not witness too much rhetoric or any cross-border slug fests between political leaders.
On the Indian side, the BJP (which is clearly the frontrunner) needs to realize that for the time being its best chance to mend ties with Pakistan lies with the civilian government headed by Nawaz Sharif who won with a comfortable majority last year. On the Pakistani side, it is important for the PML-N regime to be pragmatic, and not play into the hands of hardliners on either side of the Radcliffe, or to do anything which strengthens the GHQ in Rawalpindi.