By Salman Bashir
The wave of
hyper-nationalism now sweeping the globe has touched India in a big way and
after the conclusion of its general election last week, the secular India of
Nehru is history.
The Narendra Modi-led Bhartiya Janata Party will be staying in office. Even for experienced observers of India’s political scene, the election results are surprising. With crystal clarity, the right-wing agenda of the BJP and its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been endorsed by some 900 million people.
Despite its plurality of religions, ethnicities, cultures and languages, huge diversity and stark disparities, India has chosen a future underpinned in the past. But it is yet premature to view the BJP win as a sign of India’s civilizational renaissance.
Prime Minister Imran Khan lost no time in congratulating Prime Minister Modi on his victory. In a tweet, and later in a telephone call, Khan expressed his hope for working with Modi for peace in the region. Earlier, Khan had said that Modi’s win would be good for Pakistan because a strong Indian Prime Minister could find courage beyond petty political expediencies to take important decisions for Pakistan-India relations.
This nascent hope must be cherished. The BJP should be bringing some clarity to its Pakistan policy now, hopefully, based on ground realities and facts. And what are the facts? That Pakistan is a geographically contiguous neighbor. That geography cannot be altered. Pakistan is a country of almost 210 million people, with a formidable military with the ability to hold requisite equations to maintain strategic balances. As it seeks better relations with India, Pakistan can be a huge multiplier for regional peace, progress, and prosperity. It is not what the people of India were misled to believe — it is not rabidly hostile to India, nor a state sponsor of terrorism, nor a perennial enemy.
Pakistan and India have a long and bloody history between them, and very real differences to resolve. But now more than ever, Pakistan seeks a peaceful resolution of all those disputes. India’s readiness to tread the path of dialogue, amity and cooperation will prove mutually beneficial, especially in a turbulent global and regional environment where transborder natural phenomenon and challenges like climate change and droughts can only be dealt with collectively.
Two countries joined by common mountains and rivers cannot afford to remain the prisoners of their history.
In Pakistan, one can only hope that Modi will rise beyond his election campaign rhetoric. With a handful of peaceful overtures recently made from the Pakistan side, the ball is in his court. Eventually, he will have to reflect on his legacy — whether he will be the legacy of a peace-maker and liberator or that of a warmonger.
With bated breath, the people of this vast South Asian region are watching his next move. He has a myriad of options to choose from: Renewing cooperation under the auspices; meeting Imran Khan at the SCO Summit in Bishkek in June; enabling diplomats to work toward significant outcomes at leadership level meetings. If one takes an objective view and shuts off the sentimentalism and bravado that has so far dominated India-Pakistan narratives, there are far more convergences than divergences between the two.
In the past, both countries had agreed to build on those commonalities and narrow down their differences. There is no other way to move rationally on from the potholes of history. With great hope and some luck, there is room for cautious optimism that Narendra Modi will take a rational view in his new avatar, and find the courage to invest in improving India’s greater neighborhood.
(Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India. Twitter: @SalmanB_Isb)