ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Pakistan has greeted with optimism news of the sweeping election victory in India by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Political leaders and analysts hope that the new BJP government will respond positively to Islamabad’s peace overtures.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said Friday that he telephoned Narendra Modi to congratulate him on his Bharatiya Janata Party’s “impressive victory” in the election and offer “good wishes.”
Pakistani Federal Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch said his country will wait for Modi to take office before it can offer any analysis of the Indian prime minister's policy toward Islamabad.
"Pakistan believes in a peaceful relationship with its neighbors, including India. And we are for peace. We are not for war. We want to settle every dispute with India through peaceful means. That is what our line is. And what would be the line of BJP under Mr. Modi? That is to be seen,” said Baloch.
Political leaders and analysts here are cautiously optimistic about Modi's rise to power, in part because they see him as unpredictable. Pakistanis recall Atal Behari Vajpayee of the BJP, India's leader from 1999 to 2004, who undertook a historic bus journey to Pakistan in an effort to normalize bilateral ties.
Senator Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the defense committee of the upper house of parliament, said there is no serious apprehension in Pakistani political circles about Modi becoming prime minister of India. He noted that economic development is at the top of Modi’s agenda, and that will require better relations with neighboring countries.
"He will be driven by an economic vision, and he will be inspired by the vision of his predecessors, like Mr. Vajpayee, who reached out to Pakistan in a big way," said Hussain. "So we feel that the region is moving in a manner which is compatible with better relations between Pakistan and India, particularly in the field of politics, in the field of security [and] in the field of economy. And I think the ball is now in the court of the Indian side. There is no constituency in Pakistan which seeks confrontation with India.”
Hussain said close cooperation between India and Pakistan is essential to prevent their rivalry from igniting a proxy war for influence in neighboring Afghanistan as foreign troops prepare to withdraw from that war-torn country later this year.
Salman Bashir until recently was Pakistan’s ambassador to India. "I believe it is in our mutual interest - the interest of Pakistan and the interest of India - to come to some sort of modus vivendi where we could fruitfully engage with each other. The engagement process must be resumed. So, I would expect that the next government in India will take a rational line towards Pakistan and not be sort of carried away by the jingoistic attitude reflected in the pre-election phase,” he said.
Ruling party lawmaker Owais Leghari heads the foreign affairs committee of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. Taking a more cautious approach, he said he sees only an uncertain hope for improved relations between the two countries:
“I think the Indian political leadership should be mature enough to understand how important it is to keep the stability of this region in place. But so far, we have not heard of policies by the BJP leadership responsible enough for this bilateral relation to actually flourish and improve. So we can just hope for betterment in our relations but it does not look quite doable at the moment,” said Leghari.
Former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Sherry Rehman, speaking at a seminar in Islamabad about Indian politics, said she does not expect smooth sailing for her country’s relations with India under a Modi government.
“In the event of a crisis certainly there will be behavioral change, is my view. There may not be in terms of broad articulations. There may be a year of grandstanding toward Pakistan, because that is what the BJP does, but post-Mumbai the 'strategic indifference' - and it is a very contrived one that we say through the Congress years - will escalate to more than indifference, surely,” said Rehman.
A wide-ranging bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan to improve ties and seek solutions to outstanding territorial disputes, including Kashmir, remains suspended. The breakdown occurred early last year when Indian officials accused Pakistani soldiers of crossing the disputed Kashmir border and beheading several Indian troops - charges that Islamabad has denied.
Moreover, New Delhi wants Islamabad to conclude the trial of several suspected Islamic militants accused of planing the terror attacks on Mumbai in 2008. During the recent campaign in India, BJP leaders said they would take tough action to prevent cross-border raids by militants operating in Pakistan.