Final vote countdown in seven-phased world’s largest election exercise in India would be completed by May 23 with eyes of friends and adversaries focused on the outcome. At the time of revolutionary France the catch phrase was—if France catches cold, entire Europe goes sneezing. Much similar can be said about Indian elections. In many capitals it is expected that a lot would change if there is change in India.
In Pakistan, Prime Minister Khan had expressed hope for the return of Prime Minister Modi a second time as for him it would be easy to do business with.
Whatever, there is no doubt that elections are supposed to be catalyst for change. I remember late Pakistani leader martyred Benazir Bhutto holding firm belief in elections as harbinger of change. That was the reason that despite her opposition to General Zia’s dictatorship she supported participation in non-party local bodies’ elections. And had she managed to connect from London with PPP leader late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi in Abbotabad attending MRD meeting at Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan’s residence to decide about participation in 1984 polls, PPP would not have boycotted them.
It is said smaller parties that were secretly hooked with General Zia had opposed participation vociferously. How happy General Zia was to this boycott decision that the moment he was informed of the boycott by MRD, he offered thanks giving prayers instantly as revealed by him in Jang group’s panel interview of in June 1988 months before his divine fall from the sky to meet his end.
On the other hand, martyred Benazir Bhutto considered it as a wrong decision since by not participating in the elections, one forfeited ones right to play a role offered to it through secret ballot, to bring about a desired change.
History of elections in India and Pakistan are two different things. In India every election, since it is held transparently under an independent Chief Election Commissioner and Election commission—its outcome has never been challenged. There are no rigging charges by the candidates/parties nor accusations of outside interference.
In Pakistan it is a different case. As seen in the last elections, plethora of allegations started mounting against Election Commission from day one. Despite claims of transparency, there was too much murk in its conduct. The powers that be to have desired results indulged in all sort of hank and panky. They engineered political parties like MQM into PSP etc, arms twisted winning candidates into joining a party that they had earmarked for victory, cloned political leaders you know who, and the result is before our eyes that almost one year down the road, people in Pakistan continue to call their elected prime minister ‘selected prime minister.’
In India only recently there was a faint reference by opposition to what was alleged to be a bid at ‘politicising the army’ by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Nothing more have come out to substantiate the allegation except that he tried to create a war like situation post Pulwama to mobilise Hinduvta vote in his favour by fanning anti-Pakistan sentiments. However, it is too early to say whether this war mongering helped him or not in recapturing his lost votes in his ultra right constituency.
What would likely be the result is extremely hard to predict in the vastness of electoral exercise as well in view of the currents, cross-currents and undercurrents of Indian politics which is constitutionally secular but not secular practically—one shall have to wait and see. If Prime Minister Narender Modi returns a second time will he deliver all that he has promised or it would be much more of the same. There are no doubt predictions of a clean sweep for Congress but it has to be seen will Congress under Rahul Gandhi/Priyanka leadership make the difference by capturing enough seats to herald back Congress Raj? Most likely outcome is expected to be a hung parliament.
Notwithstanding the final count and as to who will be victor and future ruler of India, leaders who matter in Pakistan must evolve their own strategy to face the post election India—whether with or without Modi. No doubt Prime Minister Khan has put all his eggs in Shri Modi’s basket by his confidence in his leadership for normalising relations between India and Pakistan and also for making serious moves for resolving Kashmir issue that almost brought the two nuclear nations face to face with war in last February, since both India and Pakistani policies are centric to each other, PM Khan shall have to have the Establishment on the same page with him.
Notwithstanding the absence of understanding of compulsions in real politics, Prime Minister Khan’s rushing to declare that he would be happy to do business with Modi Sarkar on the eve of elections must have been reassuring to Modi who would not have liked yet another repetition of Pulwama during the course of polls. Not only that, actions within Pakistan by Imran Khan against Maulana Masood Azhar and his terrorist organisation JeM accused of executing Pulwama killings, Pathankot etc., proscription of his organisation/charities and finally UN action against Masood Azhar himself with changed Chinese stand, foreign policy pundits look forward to turning ‘new leaf’ in the chequered history of strained relations between the two countries.
First step that takes of in in the ‘new leaf’ is the decision of the UN Security Council sanctions committee on Al Qaeda declaring Mohammad Masood Azhar Alvi, the founder of Jamshed e Mohammad, as a global terrorist on May 1st. The news was a boost to Modi Sarkar and it must have given a pleasant pep up to his election campaign when chips for him were seemingly down. Indians had reasons to celebrate it as a diplomatic victory. The declaration was interpreted in Delhi as acceptance of its demand to have Masood Azhar declared an international terrorist. Though widely considered as diplomatic defeat, Chinese decision to lift its “technical hold” on Masood Ahar does not any way undermine Pakistan’s relations with China. It is more based on real politics than rhetorical nicesities that often highlight Sino-Pakistan relations.
Could the UN decision on Masood Azhar be the catalyst first step towards bringing the two nuclear countries onto a trajectory that could usher in peaceful co-existence among them? Most certainly yes! My heart went wild in jubilation when I read articles that upheld UN decision to list Masood Azhar as International terrorist and justified it too as good for the country. It seems surely the change is coming in the mindset.
Here a little digression. In early 1989 martyred Benazir Bhutto visited China in her official position as prime minister. Memorable reception and protocol like of which don’t happen any more, was accorded to her. Her visit was marked by two meetings with top Chinese leaders among others. One was with eighty year old Chairman Den Piao and second with the younger Chinese Prime Minister. Deng’s was a journey into nostalgia for nearly two years in which he recalled his long association with Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and praised him to the skies. Second was more of real politics—advice of a seasoned prime minister to Benazir Bhutto who was much too young and inexperienced.
Chinese Premier’s major thrust were Pakistan’s relations with India and the need for economic development. As regards India he advised Benazir Bhutto not to drum beat about war but to seek peace, build confidence through trade and easy flow of human traffic. “Follow our model, we too have a border dispute but our trade with India has multiplied since we went to war in sixties.’’ His message was clear: “We waited for a century and got Hong Kong back without a war. Why can’t you wait for Kashmir?”
Probably Imran Khan must have read of this somewhere that once in his early days of hash-hish politics made an off the cuff remark that instead of going to war with India on Kashmir, Pakistan should keep it for some time on the back burner and continue playing cricket, develop trade and build mutual confidence in total trust in each other. Chinese advice has weight, indeed, peace promises bigger dividends than war.