Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks in Beijing during a visit to China late last month. (How Hwee Young - pool/Getty Images)

With Modi Reelection, Pakistan’s PM Hopes for Resumption of Talks

Imran Khan believes hardline leader in neighboring state will be less timid about taking risks over disputes that include Kashmir – but not all agree

[Islamabad] As expected, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance has won a majority of seats in that country’s general election, thus paving the way for him to retain his job.

Modi rode a wave of Hindu nationalism, aggressive national security slogans and jingoistic rhetoric, his campaign largely revolving around projecting himself as India’s “watchman” and bashing neighboring Pakistan. A majority of those in Pakistan see this as a nightmare for bilateral relations – although Imran Khan, Pakistan’s popular prime minister, thinks otherwise.

While millions of Pakistanis consider Modi a threat to peace and stability in South Asia, Khan believes he can deliver when it comes to making tough decisions. In fact, he sees the prospects of a better working relationship with arch-rival India under Modi’s stewardship.

Khan, who enjoys massive public support and trust despite a deteriorating economy and ever-rising inflation, poverty and unemployment, made it known that he thought there might be a better chance for peace talks if Modi won.

“I believe a settlement in Kashmir is highly likely if the BJP wins,” Khan told journalists last month in Islamabad.

He made this loud and clear, saying that if India’s National Congress Party came to power, it might be too frightened to seek a settlement over the territory that both countries claim. Modi’s BJP, however, could make a settlement possible.

“Dialogue would be more likely if the current Hindu nationalist government returns to power,” he said.

Historically, hardliners in Hindu-majority India have taken bold decisions when it comes to Pakistan, a majority Muslim country.

The late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at the time head of the BJP, was a staunch critic of Pakistan while in the opposition. However, he took great steps to normalize ties after becoming the first non-National Congress party leader to serve a full five-year term as prime minister, traveling to Pakistan to attend summit meetings. He invited Pakistan’s military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to Agra despite the latter’s role in the bitter Kargil war the two countries fought in 1999.

Likewise, Modi, soon after taking office in 2014, invited Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to attend his swearing-in ceremony, and then travelled to Lahore in December 2015 in a surprise move aimed at improving bilateral ties.

Since becoming prime minister last July, Khan has been advocating for peace with India. Pakistan’s powerful military fully backs him in this regard. Analysts also believe that both Khan and Modi can make tough decisions when it comes to resolving outstanding issues between the two nuclear-armed rivals, including over Kashmir.

“I believe Prime Minister Imran Khan when he says there are better chances to talk of peace with India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Haroon Abbas, an assistant professor of international relations at Bahauddin Zakariya University, in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, told the Media Line. “Both have guts to take unpopular and tough decisions as both enjoy massive support in their respective countries and can normalize ties.”

Yet Mishaal Malik, wife of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front Chairman Yasin Malik and an expert in her own right on the Pakistan-India relationship, said she had little hope of better ties under Modi.

“Modi’s reelection is bad news for all, including minorities in India – especially Muslims both [throughout] India and in Kashmir, where his security forces violate human rights,” she told The Media Line by phone.

“[I’m] not sure why Prime Minister Imran Khan believes in Modi,” Malik continued. “The reality is that Modi’s reelection means strained ties with Pakistan. As for Kashmir, I don’t see that he will be willing to initiate talks with Pakistan to resolve [the dispute].”

Amjad Shoaib, a retired general and now an analyst on defense and international affairs, agrees with Malik and advises Khan not to expect much from Modi.

“Don’t forget he’s responsible for the murder of hundreds of Muslims in Gujarat,” he told The Media Line, referring to a 2002 massacre in a border state that some say was inspired by Modi, at the time a parliamentarian who believed that Muslims had been behind a train fire that killed dozens of Hindu pilgrims.

“He can’t be trustworthy,” Shoaib said. “Pakistan must adopt an aggressive policy in dealing with India under Modi.”

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