India neither surprised by Pakistan election results, nor expecting turnaround, say experts
Imran Khan, once seen as a progressive liberal, and the Cricket World Cup-winning captain of Pakistan , has undergone a major political transformation in the little over two-decade history of his political party.
India is not surprised at the outcome of the elections in Pakistan that ended three decades of the two-party dominance of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and placed cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan at the helm.
Nor does the country expect a sudden turnaround in its testy relationship with Pakistan, analysts tracking the bilateral relationship said. According to them, the army will continue dictating Islamabad’s policy towards New Delhi. They also see friction within the coalition Khan might cobble up as well his own political posturing as a populist campaigner being tested as the political executive of the country.
Based on this, most analysts say it makes little sense for the Narendra Modi government, which is into the last year of its five-year tenure, to spend too much political capital on ties with Pakistan, considering that any negative fallout can have a huge impact on the 2019 elections.
There was no official response from the Indian government on the election of Khan as a formal announcement of the results was still awaited.
One analyst said the friction between Nawaz Sharif and the army made the writing on the wall clear. Sharif, who too enjoyed the support of the army once, and his daughter Maryam were jailed this month on corruption charges . Khan’s critics allege that he has the army’s backing, despite his own denials.
Khan, once seen as a progressive liberal, and the Cricket World Cup-winning captain of Pakistan , has undergone a major political transformation in the little over two-decade history of his political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He has endeared himself to the army and also echoed right-wing Islamist voices on certain issues, analysts said.
“To me this is like the early days of Nawaz Sharif when he pandered to the right-wing religious elements and wrongly believed that such elements could be handled politically,” said M K Bhadrakumar, a former career diplomat who headed the ministry of external affairs’ PAI (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran) division.
For sure, Khan did not make any overt anti-India noises in his campaigns, and what he said on Kashmir for most part reflected the stated position of Pakistan on the issue.
“In my view, Imran Khan has ended up doing better than anticipated. Nevertheless whether this will lead to greater stability has to be seen,” said TCA Raghavan, a former Indian envoy to Pakistan.
Traditionally, the foreign and defence policies of Pakistan have larger imprints of its army,the sixth largest in the world.
“The new government in Pakistan has its hands full. The end game is unraveling in Afghanistan where the Americans are waging a war for 18 years. There is enough international pressure to snap the roots of terrorist outfits that enjoy some patronage as non-state actors. Then there are army redlines. Then there is India,” said a person who has overseen India-Pakistan policy for many years and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The election results mean little for Pakistan or the region, said strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellany.
“The Pakistani military will remain the puppet master calling the shots from behind the scenes,” Chellaney said. “Imran Khan is its latest civilian puppet. Khan’s support of Islamists and his defence of Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws will ensure Pakistan remains a jihadist dungeon.”
What is of immense interest to India, though, will be the new civilian government’s policy towards Afghanistan. “Imran Khan spoke about the US having no role in Afghanistan. That is easier said than done,” said Bhadrakumar.