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Should India bother about Elections in Pakistan?

opinionShould India bother about Elections in Pakistan?

Indians don’t seem to care at all about what is happening with the elections in Pakistan.

By the time you read this, national “elections” in Pakistan would have been done and dusted and a new Prime Minister, probably, Nawaz Sharif, would have been sworn in despite “independent” candidates (read Imran Khan) shocking many in Punjab that sends half the Members of Parliament. The remote possibility of many voters in Pakistan defiantly opting for Imran Khan even though he is behind bars and has been banned from participating in any “electoral” activity seems to have come true. Of course, the chances of that being accepted by the “establishment” are so remote that one can dismiss that as a fantasy. Of course, after watching early results, many analysts are calling this a 1970 moment for Pakistan when a stubborn military and its political puppets triggered the birth of Bangladesh. Will Imran Khan, the once famous playboy now in jail for, among other things, adultery, be yet another Sheikh Mujibur Rehman? Or will the establishment do what it did with Benazir Bhutto? Beyond perennial peaceniks and sado-masochistic liberals of a particular hue, no one in India will have any sympathy for the former Prime Minister, who was christened Taliban Khan after he became a “devout” Muslim after a lifetime of hedonism.

Frankly, Indians don’t seem to care at all about what is happening with elections in Pakistan. The authors distinctly remember how the Indian media fervently covered the 2018 elections in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif had already been banished to exile in London and Imran Khan was the handpicked “man of the moment” for the Pakistani military. The Army always gets what it wants in Pakistan. It wanted Imran Khan as the Prime Minister in 2018 and he became the Prime Minister even though his party PTI had failed to win a majority in the parliament despite all the aid and assistance of the “establishment”. Television channels, newspapers and digital platforms in India posted election related stories almost every day. This time, Imran Khan is in jail and though he remains immensely popular, the Army doesn’t like him anymore. But nobody in India seems to give a damn.

The main reason for this is the fact that the Narendra Modi government has made that benighted country an irrelevant factor. Sure, not a day goes by even now when the notorious ISI doesn’t try and push terrorists into India to cause mayhem and destruction. Far too many times for the comfort of the Indian security forces, the ISI succeeds in doing that in Jammu & Kashmir. All readers are familiar with the heart-breaking stories of Indian soldiers and other security personnel being killed in ambushes and encounters by Pakistan sponsored terrorists. But when it comes to mainland India, Pakistani terrorists and their patrons have been completely defanged. Beginning October 2001, when terrorists attacked the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly, India was subject to a torrent of relentless terror attacks in crowded civilian areas in urban centres. There is hardly a major city in India that was spared the death and destruction. It is important to remember here that Nawaz Sharif has probably made two genuine attempts for “peace” with India. The first time was when Atal Bihari Vajpayee went to Lahore. But then came the Kargil betrayal and the terror attacks. The second time was when Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. Once again, it was betrayal and Sharif was booted out like in 1999.

Pakistan occupied a dominant space in the minds of Indians primarily because of these relentless terror attacks. Now that such attacks on urban centres are a distant and fading memory, most Indians have realised that they have better things to do than waste time on Pakistan. The advent of the Narendra Modi government in 2014 also coincided with the end of an era where survivors of the 1947 Partition, who nursed deeply nostalgic fondness for Pakistan, started fading away. Along with some self-styled liberals, they used to lead the “Aman Ki Asha” candlelight vigils at Wagah border even as Pakistani terrorists kept on killing fellow Indians. That generation is more or less gone, taking naïve illusions about the true intent of Pakistan towards India with them. Another bogey, raised ever so often by the western media in particular, was that of a possible nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

Every time ordinary Indians would demand retaliation against Pakistan, this bogey of nuclear war would be thrown up. But the cross-border Uri surgical strikes in 2016 and the Balakot air strikes in 2019 have clearly demonstrated that the nuclear bogey was a bluff.
The third reason Pakistan has become irrelevant for India is the evisceration of its economy. The existential crisis of 2023 when Pakistanis were dying in stampedes for wheat and committing suicide because they could not pay hugely inflated electricity bills has been staved off by an IMF aid package and doles and loan repayment extensions from “friendly” nations like China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The existential economic crisis has been staved off, but the Pakistani economy is literally living hand to mouth and is always on the verge of collapse and bankruptcy. Stupid policies have transformed a once agriculture exporting nation into one that depends on imports for food grains. Persistent violence and terror attacks have driven away even the hardiest investors. Chinese engineers and managers working on CPEC projects are scared to work in Pakistan. There is no sign of any relief as one faction of the Taliban is bent upon destruction of the Pakistani state, routinely killing Pakistani soldiers and policemen in increasingly brazen attacks. The day the doles stop, the economy will collapse. Hence Pakistani politicians and generals are routinely seen visiting western and West Asian capitals with begging bowls. Till 2008, Pakistan had a much higher per capita income than India. Now, the Indian per capita income is 40% higher and the gap is widening by the year. Even Bangladesh is now more prosperous than Pakistan. Perhaps the “establishment” wants a “leader” to cool down things with India and Afghanistan for the moment.

This hopeless situation was reflected in a unique survey conducted by CVoter to mark 75 years of Independence and Partition in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Citizens in the three countries were asked to rate the performance of the other two. For India, more than 50% of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis said India had done better than expected. It was the same for Bangladesh. But more than 50% of Indians and Bangladeshis said Pakistan has done worse than expected in the last 75 years. Pakistanis share the sentiment. Close to two thirds of citizens in Pakistan feel that their country has done worse than expected since 1947. The CVoter survey was a very exhaustive one with about 75 questions being asked to respondents in their local languages. On almost every parameter, Indians and Bangladeshis exhibited confidence and optimism, while the Pakistani responses were steeped in disappointment and despair.

So, should India bother at all about elections in Pakistan and who becomes the Prime Minister? Anyways, it is the Army that will continue to call the shots. The authors think India can ignore Pakistani elections. But not Pakistan. A desperate military, which is becoming unpopular, might resort to desperate measures. To that extent, keeping a hawk like eye on Pakistan remains a necessity.

Yashwant Deshmukh is Founder & Editor in Chief of CVoter Foundation and Sutanu Guru is Executive Director.

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