Although the change in power in Pakistan will undoubtedly trigger an evolution in Indo-Pak relations, there can be no certainty about the trajectory it will take
This is the 2nd instalment in the ‘Bullets & Ballots’ series, which is an LSPR-Legally Flawed joint initiative, aimed at analysing the Pakistan General Elections.
Everyone knows of the tumultuous history between India and Pakistan. Beginning with the partition in 1947 to the continuing contentious issues surrounding Kashmir, the two countries have shared volatile international relations with each other. The recent elections held in Pakistan sheds a new light on these relations.
In the first instalment to this series, Aditya Prasanna Bhattacharya wrote about the political instability in Pakistan, the widespread prevalence of military control and the alleged underhanded methods PM Imran Khan used to get elected into the office. In light of these elections, it is now essential for us to look at how it would affect Pakistan’s relations with India with a different leader at the helm. This post will analyse the impact of the elections in India.
History of Indo-Pakistan Relations
There has already been a lot that has been written about the worsening relations between India and Pakistan. A comprehensive timeline of the history between them can be seen here and here. For the purpose of this article, let us look into the recent relations that India and Pakistan had with each other regarding the change in leadership.
In 2013, Nawaz Sharif became the Prime Minister in Pakistan. He sought to strike a balance between the religious extremist political views prevalent in Pakistan with a social centric outlook in Pakistan. He consistently sought to free Pakistan from the military control. This is something which is alleged to have resulted in him being ousted out of power by the military in cahoots with the Supreme Court. Although he was accused of corruption charges, his external relations with India and stance on religious extremism made him the best case scenario for foreign relations with India.
In 2014, Narendra Modi came to power. His early stance towards Pakistan was friendly, with him and the then PM Sharif entering into bilateral talks. There even was an unscheduled visit to Pakistan by PM Modi.
Thus, even though the relations between the two countries could not develop further because of cross-border attacks, the door was open to pursue the same if need arose.
PM Imran Khan’s View Point
PM Imran Khan is seen as a mercurial figure, both in his on-field cricket persona and his off-field political involvements. After being elected into power, he has talked about several issues plaguing Pakistan. His views can be consolidated into the following 3 points:
- Governance and Corruption:
Having to deal with the internal policy struggles such as failing economy and a crippled government would take up most of PM Khan’s attention. He has tried to tackle the governance issue by talking about eliminating corruption. One of the main promises made by him was strengthening the governance foundations. His speeches which condemned corruption (a charge against previous PM Nawaz Sharif) were a recurring theme for his plans for Pakistan’s development.
“I will introduce a new system to combat corruption which is the biggest menace in the country after coming into power ….. We will improve the existing local bodies system across Pakistan to bring the development to grass-root level.”
The second aspect of Imran Khan’s agenda would be reinforcing the economy. Currently, Pakistan’s economy is dwindling. According to the Economic Times, Pakistan’s currency crisis may need a bailout from the IMF (its 12th bailout since the late 1980s). Its tax implementation is in shambles and there is an urgent need to reform loss-making state-run enterprises.
PM Khan acknowledged the sorry economic status of Pakistan. He stated, “Pakistan is facing the biggest economic challenge in the country’s history. Our economy is going down because of our dysfunctional institutions. We need to fix our governance systems.”
From the handsome cricketer who was hailed in the West as a relatively liberal Pakistani, to becoming highly religious, PM Khan has had quite a transformation in the public eye. With this transformation also comes the allegations that he has a soft attitude towards terrorists. His conservative stance regarding feminism, defence of blasphemy laws carrying the death penalty and push for peace talks with terrorists (including a half-hearted criticism of shooting Malala Yousufzai).
In fact, Tavleen Singh of Indian Express had to say this about PM Khan:
“….he appears to have become increasingly Islamic and is rarely seen without prayer beads and often seen paying obeisance at religious shrines. In militant Islamist tones he speaks against America, feminism, westernisation and the global war on terrorism. He sounds so jihadist in the process that he is called Taliban Khan. So as prime minister will he be good for India?”
Pakistan’s Relations with India
Having understood the history of the Indo-Pakistani relations and getting a succinct assessment of PM Khan’s position on various aspects, it is time to come to how his rule would affect relations with India.
The way PM Khan would deal with India broadly falls into the following possible outcomes.
- PM Khan is a mere puppet in the hands of the military.
Many foreign policy experts believe that the stalemate in the relations will continue with PM Khan in power. According to Johann Chacko of Quartz Media, the change of powers de jure (if it can be called that with the military involvement) in Pakistan would have little change in its policies, whether internal or foreign. Control of defence, foreign relations and internal security have now shifted more securely into the hands of the military. That being the case, India would not likely be open for any talks between the two nations.
Another reason why there would be an impasse in the diplomatic talks is because of the impending elections in India. The 2019 elections are a crucial point for the BJP and sympathising with PM Khan in such a turmoil would turn out to be a burden.
- PM Khan will seek to improve relations with India.
This scenario would be the best possible situation for India’s foreign policy. It would open talks between the two nations and open communication might help in reducing the tensions present.
PM Khan has recognised the importance of solidifying relations with India. In fact, with regard to the economic crisis that Pakistan finds itself in, he mentioned that trade ties with India would be given a high priority.
“The number one priority of any government should be trade ties with India.”
Addressing the Kashmir issue, PM Khan seemed hopeful of talks between India and Pakistan. He appealed for the blame game to stop and stated that Pakistan will take two steps if India takes one to build up their relations.
- PM Khan will further deteriorate the relations with India.
The worst possible situation regarding Indo-Pakistani relations is PM Khan’s leaning towards the far right political groups (which in Pakistan also coincide with the religious extremist groups). This would result in an inflexible stance regarding the Kashmir issue with India. Not only would this strict religious way of governance sour his ties with India but also create divide between the different sects in Pakistan. Thus, there is a possibility (albeit a very slight one) that PM Khan will further separate the Indo-Pakistani ties.
India’s relations with Pakistan have see-sawed between highly volatile to barely tolerant in the past years. PM Khan’s rise to power, will not change Pakistan’s policy with India. Changes, if any, would be felt in Pakistan’s internal politics. It is now for us to wait and watch which of the above-mentioned scenarios will play out.
Almas is an LLM Candidate at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. After completing her BA.LLB (Hons.) from the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi, she has started her Dispute Resolution career in Bangalore.