NEW DELHI (TIP): As Pakistan takes baby steps into democracy, India is looking on with apprehension at the plethora of violence that may prevent the new government after Saturday’s election from being the kind that India would like to see. “Our best bet in Pakistan is a strong civilian government that can change the India narrative to something we can work with,” high level sources said.
At this point, the dominant narrative is driven by the India-obsessed Pakistan army-ISI combine, which gives oxygen to jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates. Support to terrorism against India therefore has official sanction. The most important challenge for Pakistanis — candidates and voters alike — is that these elections have been dominated more by terror attacks than anything else. Indians hoping for a free election have been dismayed at the relentless violence that threatens to keep many indoors on polling day.
India is hoping against hope that the election throws up a clear mandate for one of the mainstream parties. All signs point to the fact that Asif Zardari’s PPP might fall prey to antiincumbency and Nawaz Sharif appears the front-runner. Many believe that Sharif, who was last tossed out by General Pervez Musharraf’s coup, will not be particularly enamoured of the Pakistan army. But Sharif is accommodating of many of the Islamist groups.
That bothers the west, but India appears more resigned to it. For India, its important that the new government takes the right economic and trade decisions for a start. That would put energy into the bilateral relationship even if other indices are more difficult to fulfil. Pakistan analyst Mosharraf Zaidi said in Foreign Policy, “This is not to say that Pakistanis embrace their neighbour. They are still smart about India’s role in separating Pakistan from Bangladesh, and still view with acrimony India’s administration over large parts of Kashmir.
Yet, for all the bitterness and baggage, even the juiciest volleys from India are now returned with a disengaged ‘meh’. This will likely remain the status quo for a while. As long as it does, the doors remain open for India to tap into an unprecedented national appetite for normalcy.” A Pew survey tellingly found most Pakistanis deeply sceptical of Taliban and America alike.
The study said, “About 80% think the Pakistani military, which for decades has been an important player in the country’s politics, is having a positive influence on the nation. Solid majorities say religious leaders (69%), the media (68%) and the courts (58%) are having a good impact on the country.” This doesn’t hold out much hope for the kind of government India wants in Pakistan.
Sharif faces a challenge from Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaaf, which is seeing a bounce in the election campaigns largely due to his “outsider” tag; while the Sharifs are playing the governance card, they are also seen as the same old political class that has let Pakistan down.