India-Pakistan relations post-Indian elections
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led coalition is widely expected to win enough seats in India’s Lok Sabha election to retain power. This means Narendra Modi will be re-elected as Prime Minister for the second time with some foreign policy experts saying that a new Modi government might attempt to revamp its older anti-Pakistan policies and defuse tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries.
Modi and the BJP hardliners have been using anti-Pakistan propaganda since the 2014 elections to mobilize the support of Hindutva followers and Indian nationalists in both national and state elections. A review of Modi’s five years in power between 2014 and 2019 shows that bilateral relations between India and Pakistan remained consistently tense in these years. State elections in India or uprisings in Indian occupied Kashmir marred any hint of goodwill almost immediately.
Current trends in the Indian polity reveal that it is perhaps too naive to expect Prime Minister Modi and the hardliners in his party to modify their stance towards Pakistan after the election. Admittedly in the election campaign, political leaders make too many promises, but once they are settled in the parliament or formulate a government, they adopt realistic policies and deviate from electioneering rhetoric or hate speeches. Despite this, the probability of change in the new Modi government’s policy toward Pakistan seems low because his re-election campaign has received a huge boost from the current hostilities with Pakistan, and he will try to use the conflict in future state elections, including in the forthcoming Kashmir state elections.
The truth of the matter is that Modi’s so-called ‘surgical strikes’ that claimed to target militants in Pakistan after two militant attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir worked to his advantage despite evidence that the strikes were unsuccessful or non-existent. The first came in 2016 in Uri and the second came earlier this year after a suicide bombing in Pulwama killed 40 Indian soldiers. In the aftermath of Uri, there is no proof to support the claim that Indian forces struck across the border at militant launch pads in Pakistan-controlled territory. Similarly in February 27, Delhi’s claims that Indian forces hit back at militant camps in Pakistan’s Balakot and downed a Pakistani jet were discredited by neutral experts, most recently last week in US-based Foreign Policy Magazine.
Interestingly, despite the damaged reputation of the Indian armed forces after Pakistan shot down two of their fighter jets, Modi’s warmongering speeches and the aggressive nationalism of the Indian media have only increased the chances of a BJP victory in this election.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
Interestingly, despite the damaged reputation of the Indian armed forces after Pakistan shot down two of their fighter jets in a dogfight and captured their pilot in February, Modi’s warmongering speeches and the aggressive nationalism of the Indian media have only increased the chances of a BJP victory in this election.
For the last few days of his re-election campaign, Modi has in effect been reiterating, “will you dedicate your vote to the brave men who conducted the Balakot airstrikes, or to the Central Reserve Force Policemen who lost their lives in the Pulwama attack?”
Another factor which will hinder the de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan is the continuing situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Mr. Modi and his hardliner associates are determined to change the constitutional, autonomous status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP manifesto of 2019 released earlier this week categorically vows to strip the rights of autonomy from the people of occupied Kashmir. The manifesto also announced abolishing Article 35-A which prevents outsiders from buying property in Indian occupied Kashmir, and has agitated even pro-Delhi Kashmiri leaders.
Moreover, the BJP promises to implement the Uniform Civil Code facilitating the construction of the controversial Ram Temple in Ayodhya after coming into power in a move that will increase the apathy of Indian Muslims in the Modi government.
Pakistan is not prepared to accept India’s hegemony in the region. Prime Minister Imran Khan has been expressing his desire to improve relations with India but not on Modi’s terms, and this will make it difficult for Modi to climb down the escalation ladder, particularly when his government is endeavouring to purchase modernized military hardware. Notably, Mr. Ajit Doval who is recognized as Modi’s point-man for handling relations with Pakistan, believes in continuing the doctrine of offensive-defensive to keep Pakistan off-balance. India has also been struggling to modernize its armed forces and has created a huge military industrial complex business in India which discourages de-escalation of tensions.
Contrary to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement that a re-elected BJP government will be more conducive to peace, it is far more possible that military tensions between India and Pakistan will not only continue if the BJP gets re-elected in India but that things will get much worse.
– Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University.
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