Ajay Vaishnav/ Zee Research Group
There are very few bilateral ties like India-Pakistan in international politics which are so enmeshed and sort of influence the outcome of domestic affairs in each other’s nations. Policymakers, intelligentsia and even general public in both nations take keen interest in each other’s politics, foreign policy and economy. Bilateral issues are avidly discussed everywhere - from casual drawing room chats to organised debates.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the rundown to the historic national elections in Pakistan on May 11 has captured the imagination of people on our side of the border. In particular, the election manifestos of three of the main political parties – the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) – promising friendly ties and enhanced trade cooperation - has come as a bit of surprise.
On the face of it, the absence of rhetoric branding India as an existential threat to Pakistan or invoking sense of victimhood in Kashmir raises hope for better engagement in Indo-Pakistan ties. In fact, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League has gone a step ahead and promised “to pursue a policy of normalisation with countries with which we have differences, so as to seek their resolution by means of peaceful negotiations, with the objective of establishing cordial and cooperative ties with all countries, especially those that are our neighbours.”
PML-N manifesto not only proposes normalisation, but also suggests a concrete mechanism to realise it. It proposes to use Pakistan’s unique position and develop it as a “flourishing transit economy”. Pakistan can link India with Afghanistan and energy rich Central Asian Republics and Iran to India for oil/gas pipelines. The proposal is significant as Islamabad has long resisted allowing transit trade between India and Afghanistan fearing New Delhi is using Kabul to wedge it strategically.
On the most contentious issue, PML-N proposes to make “special efforts to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN resolutions and the 1999 Lahore Accord.” But, it wants the process to be in “consonance with the aspirations of the people of the territory for their inherent right of self-determination.” The international water agreements and managing it too finds space in PML-N’s manifesto.
While PML-N’s focus is on normalisation and proposing measures to achieve it, the PPP manifesto takes credit for normalisation of ties with India during its five year rule. It cites “normalisation of trade relations with India” and reiterates commitment to maintain regional peace and “the resolution of all outstanding issues with India, including the core issue of Kashmir, normalisation of trade relations and easing of travel restrictions.”
The third contender in the triangular contest PTI led by legendary Pakistani all-rounder Imran Khan highlights that a “progressive detente with India will benefit both countries if centred on conflict resolution and co-operation, especially in the field of energy.” The party nonetheless identifies the resolution of Kashmir conflict as one of the core national interests. Interestingly, the online version of the manifesto listed “Kashmiri jihadi forces working from within Pakistan” as driving forces for terror and lawlessness across the country.