Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Pakistan’s Imran Khan to congratulate him for his victory and spoke about building peace between India and Pakistan. After winning a majority of seats in the elections, Khan had signaled that he is open to improving the relationship.
Despite Modi’s earlier overtures toward former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, ties have been strained, with rising militancy in Kashmir.
ThePrint asks: Can Modi and Imran Khan turn around India-Pakistan ties ahead of 2019 or is the army back in control?
A narrow window of opportunity exists to turn around India-Pakistan ties
Former foreign secretary of Pakistan, and former high commissioner of Pakistan to India
Narendra Modi can indeed turn around Pakistan-India relations. A narrow window of opportunity exists, starting now to the end of the year, before India gets busy with its own elections. Imran has gone on record to talk about the importance he attaches to better relations with all the neighbours, including India.
In his address after the elections, Imran made a special mention of India. Dismissing the Bollywood-style vilification of him by the Indian media, he stated that his government would like to improve relations, resume dialogue and work towards a peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
He signalled a desire for normalising trade relations and stated that if India were to take one step, he would reciprocate with two. All political parties in Pakistan and the military favour normalising relations with India – based on mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual interest. India was not a factor in the Pakistani elections. We hope Pakistan will not be an issue in Indian elections.
Taking a wishful view, one can think of ways of going forward – an early summit meeting, perhaps at the margins of the UN General Assembly, leading to foreign secretary-level talks; a tacit understanding to do what is already agreed upon, like on humanitarian issues; the already signed liberalised visa regime; revive trade talks; renew backchannel and activate front channels for negotiating a political resolution to the Jammu and Kashmir issues. And of course, maintain ceasefire along the Line of Control. A joint future vision statement along with an action plan could be worked out and signed at the SAARC Summit.
This sounds like a tall order but given political will, it is entirely doable.
A calibrated, step by step, approach would work best for India and Pakistan
Arun K. Singh
Former ambassador to United States of America
Imran Khan, no doubt, made some positive statements about India during his televised speech after the PTI emerged as the single largest party in the Pakistan general elections. He said Pakistan would take two steps for every one step taken by India. But he made no reference to what he would do to deal with the problem of Pakistan’s support to and sponsorship of terrorism directed against India, or expediting the trial of the 26/11 accused. He also repeated the standard Pakistani position on the need to resolve “disputes” first.
The Indian official response has so far also been measured. The official spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs had welcomed the elections in Pakistan and articulated the hope of a “South Asia free of terror and violence”. Narendra Modi spoke to Imran Khan on 30 July and “reiterated his vision for peace and development in the entire neighbourhood”. Modi also expressed “hope that democracy will take deeper roots in Pakistan”.
Both responses have been standard and correct. Similar sentiments, in fact even more effusive and hopeful once, have been expressed in the past, only to have floundered in the face of the Pakistan army opposition, Pakistan-sponsored terror attacks, and substantive differences on issues and the way forward.
Much will depend on the nature of the alliance the PTI puts together, Pakistan army’s assessment of its self- interest especially when the country is facing economic and foreign exchange difficulties and the limits to China’s willingness to bail them out financially. On the Indian side, with elections due next year, there will also be cost-benefit calculations of engagement versus a hard-line stance on terrorism.
Experience of the past would suggest that it may be better to work for a calibrated, step by step approach keeping interests and vulnerabilities of all stakeholders in mind.
Ball is in Imran’s court to assure India that he is not army’s puppet
Former IB Officer who has served in Kashmir
India and Pakistan have created an irreconcilable narrative, domestically and internationally, on Kashmir from Pakistan’s side and on cross-border terrorism from India’s. It precludes any possibility of a new opening. Expectedly, in his victory speech, a cautious Imran Khan raised the Kashmir issue for the consumption of his domestic audience and Kashmiris.
Imran is yet to receive the institutional briefing from the army, ISI and foreign office, which will puncture his enthusiasm on the India front, if he really has any. The issues between the two countries have become so complicated that Imran will need months to untangle the knots to simply understand these.
On the Indian side, the Modi government remains firm on not holding dialogue with Pakistan till the latter addresses India’s concerns on cross-border terrorism. Another issue, which bedevils the relationship, is the way Pakistan is dealing with the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The open election campaign by leaders of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, with the blessings of the army, only made matters worse.
Irrespective of who rules the country, the Pakistan army has never let civilian leadership meddle into issues of its ‘core concerns’, which include relationship with India, Afghanistan and the US. Nothing much is left for professional diplomats to manoeuvre.
A breakthrough can only be brought about if either of the sides shows flexibility. Right now, the onus is on Imran to assure India that he meant what he said in his speech and dispel the common impression that he is a puppet in the hands of the army.
Hope both India and Pakistan don’t take two steps backwards this time
Journalist based out of Pakistan
Since my school days, we have discussed why the relationship between India and Pakistan is so volatile. It seemed as if leaders on either side were not willing to solve or resolve the issues of these two independent countries. There has always been an overarching sense of hostility.
However, with Imran Khan as the Prime Minister, things may change. Imran has a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the two countries like he earlier did with cricket. Unlike Nawaz Sharif, his party doesn’t have the same political baggage. Khan was critical when his supporters raised the slogan, “Jo Modi ka yaar hai, woh gaddar hai (Modi’s friends are traitors)”.
Moreover, in Pakistan’s liberal circles, it is well known that Imran is unlike your typical leader. He is confident and has the confidence of the military establishment. As the PM, he will have to bring his supporters on a soft line vis-a-vis India.
Is Narendra Modi in the same position? Not really. The perception in Pakistan is that Modi is the biggest hurdle between good India-Pakistan ties. He is seen as someone who peddles hatred. It is also likely that a part of his 2019 campaign will play on the anti-Pakistan sentiment.
However, we do foresee Modi returning to power, and post-2019 the situation may change considerably. It is with him at the helm that we can expect better cooperation between the two countries. Then, the ice may melt. We all remember Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bus diplomacy.
The thing is, irrespective of whoever sits at the negotiating table, s/he will have to discuss the complicated issue of Kashmir. And that comes with its own set of pressures.
Imran has taken the first step by telling India that “if you take one step forward, we will take two”. I hope both countries don’t take two steps backwards this time around.
If Modi reaches out, Imran Khan will respond
Member, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)
Imran Khan, the PM-in-waiting, has sent ripples all over the world, and all eyes are set on Pakistan once again.
He delivered a victory speech that gave us a sneak peek into his much-awaited foreign policy. Imran Khan is viewed as a Taliban apologist, anti-American, and an appendage of Pakistan’s military. But contrary to popular belief, Imran has expressed hope for better ties with India based on reciprocity. He clearly wants peace through conflict resolution. The question floating around is: will Imran lead his foreign policy or will he be led?
The answer is simple: Imran wants a ‘Naya’ Pakistan, and would not want trouble.
Escalating tensions between the neighbours can hinder Imran’s grand plan for Pakistan. But again, it takes two to tango, and Imran has been India’s darling. He’s loved and revered there and he definitely is reaching out to India, but will Narendra Modi reciprocate? That is the real question.
The hate mongering on both sides fuels nationalism. Modi’s popularity rides on anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Does Pakistan label Indian foreign policy as military led? No. We hope the same courtesy is extended to Pakistan.
The volatile relationship between the countries is not because of the military’s involvement but because India is just not interested.
Relationship between countries has to be based on reciprocity. If Modi reaches out, Imran will respond. Blaming the military for deteriorating relationship between neighbours is just scapegoating. India must reflect within, and for once reciprocate. After all, India is bigger than Modi.
Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj, journalist at ThePrint.