Sherry Rehman, President Jinnah Institute
Let there be no mistake: the new BJP’s majoritarian mandate is built on a bedrock of division, extremism and exclusion. Pakistan has regularly sought a dignified and equitable peace with India, and will continue to do so. If a heavier mandate spells greater political confidence for Modi in attempting to grow past the polarising premier that he was in the first round of power, more light than heat can possibly be generated between two nuclear neighbours on the knife-edge of escalating conflict.
Should the new Modi Sarkar sincerely signal a desire to reboot the relationship, it will find both an institutional and cross-party consensus in Islamabad on turning the page on years of mistrust and starting afresh. States, after all, do business with states and not individuals. But if Modi’s new avatar vis-à-vis Pakistan is more muscular than the last, this will pose major risks to the stability of the entire region.
What is clear is this: economically-frustrated Indians, have squarely put their faith in a resurgent BJP, and in doing so have voted in a toxic politics of identity and ideology that will mean another exclusionary, majoritarian and extremist five years in India.
Just the communalist noise generated by key new-BJP figures who seek to vilify Mohammad Ali Jinnah as a first-order priority will impact public narratives of hate and otherisation in both countries, shrinking space for politicians to be responsible about moving the needle to the right on bilateral red lines.
Pakistan must be prepared to deal with the challenges this will pose. Crisis-management structures between India and Pakistan remain embedded in a history of conflict and mistrust. Given this reality, both sides would profit from sitting down, even informally, to discuss ways to prevent a repeat of the February crisis. From thereon, the way forward remains a joint commission that can institutionalise talks on resolving key issues like Kashmir, terrorism, trade, climate change and visa regimes.
On Kashmir, it goes without saying: there can be no military solution to the 70-year-old dispute between the two sides, or to the oppression and state-led violence that the people of Jammu and Kashmir live with on a daily basis.
Under Modi, the Valley has been transformed into an occupied zone where state-sanctioned torture and predation define daily life. Any attempted reversal to the status of Article 370, as advised in the BJP’s manifesto, will only trigger more conflict, bloodshed and instability in South Asia. Pakistan will diplomatically and politically resist any such attempts by the new government next door, but will also use every opportunity such as perhaps a sideline meeting of the two PMs at the upcoming SCO conference.
How India navigates the growing global climate of trade wars, its ties with Iran, as well as its role in Afghanistan as it transitions to a new alignment with the US and prospects for peace will also affect Islamabad’s perceptions of New Delhi as either a force for regional stability or a purveyor of costly unrest.
26 May 2019