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How Will the Elections in Pakistan Impact Indo-Pak Relations?

In Pakistan, historically, the political evolution of the society has been nipped in the bud by an all-powerful military establishment because of which state policies have always fallen short of becoming coherent. The more the military establishment made incursions into democratic spaces, the more shaky institutions of state remained and the more fragmented the polity became. The “sovereign” role played by the GHQ in Pakistan is an example of such a scenario. The more military officials got involved in issues of politics, governance, and national interest, the more blurred the line between national interest and hawkish national security became. It is a terrible mistake and one that has severe ramifications to allow the military of a nation-state to bludgeon its democratic processes.

Instead of deterring the growth of democracy, the goal should be to empower the populace of Pakistan sufficiently to induce satisfaction with the Pakistani constituency’s role within current geopolitical realities such that a dis-empowered populace does not succumb to ministrations of destructive political ideologies.

Now I turn to India. The ultra-nationalist right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), currently in power in India, and its votaries have completely ignored how diverse communities can grow historically within the framework created by the combined forces of modern national and transnational developments.

The discourse endorsed/ disseminated by the JP serves to emphasize, reinforce, and create cultural myopia and monocultural identities. The short-sightedness of the Bhajpa will prove detrimental to the constitutional integrity of India.

The increasing communalization of Indian politics is a juggernaut that seriously questions the myth of secularism in India, and the increasing religiosity in Pakistan is just as damaging. As a poignant reminder to the student of Indian history and subcontinental politics, I would like to point out that Jawaharlal Nehru observed in the Constituent Assembly of India that the greatest danger to India will not be from Muslim communalism but from Hindutva which could potentially become expansionist and communally belligerent.

Such an irregular politics polarizes these ethnic groups into Hindus and Muslims who are required to disavow their cultural, linguistic, and social unities.

Although former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the olive branch to each other the traditional Indo-Pak enmity has been put on the backburner during Pakistani political parties on the campaign trail, the ideological and power rivalry between India and Pakistan transcend the Kashmir dispute.

During the last decade and a half, each military crisis between India and Pakistan has been followed by attempts at diplomatic rapprochement, which have turned out to be fiascos. The two countries go through sporadic peacemaking efforts, characterized by negotiations. For instance, in January 2004, the then Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, agreed “‘to the resumption of a composite dialogue”’ on all issues “‘including Jammu and Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides.” Musharraf assured the Indian government that he would not permit “‘any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner.” But this joint statement could not mitigate the existing skepticism.

Many observers interpreted the joint statement as a tacit admission of Pakistan’s past support for the LOC in Kashmir and an indication of its resolve to finally end military confrontation over the dispute. However, there was also considerable skepticism in India on the nature of change in Pakistan’s policy: was it tactical or strategic? Similarly, the Pakistani government feared that India was taking unfair advantage of Islamabad’s restraint to consolidate its political and military grip over Kashmir. At the time, Vajpayee and Musharraf took a judicious approach to nuclear warfare, and a dangerous situation mellowed.

Considering Pakistani foreign policy is dictated by Rawalpindi, not Islamabad, it remains to be seen what sort of impact elections in Pakistan will have in Indo-Pak relations. A civilian government in Pakistan, particularly a coalition government, cannot take a call on foreign policy without the intervention of the security establishment and military.

Military interventions and self-promotion in the name of democracy, which is a given in autocratic and oligarchic forms of government, must be strongly discouraged by constitutional means and methods in both India and Pakistan.

Vis-à-vis my homeland Kashmir, regardless of the possibility of nuclear restraint in South Asia, a resolution of the Kashmir dispute and insistence on accountability for human rights violations would put a monkey wrench in the drive in both countries to beef up their nuclear arsenals.

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Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism, Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman, and the editor of The Parchment of Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan has also served as an guest editor working on articles from the Jammu and Kashmir region for Oxford University Press (New York), helping to identify, commission, and review articles. She can be reached at nylakhan@aol.com.

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