No matter who wins the recently-concluded general elections in Pakistan, nothing will change for India.
The results of the elections have still not been declared (the deadline for announcing the result was 10 am on Friday), and concerns are already being raised about potential tampering or rigging of the results by the Pakistan Army, in favour of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) Chief.
The early trends, however, are not encouraging for the Pakistan Army, with members of former cricketer and hugely popular ex-prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan's political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), leading the election tally.
The Pakistan Army had put all its weight behind 'selecting' Nawaz Sharif as the new Prime Minister, so much so, that it ensured Sharif's primary contender, Khan, and many key leaders of PTI, were put in jail, and the party was barred from contesting elections as a single entity, with the stripping it of its election symbol, the cricket bat. Members of the party had to contest elections as independent candidates.
Nevertheless, the result is unlikely to bring a meaningful change in Pakistan's policy of adversarial relationship towards India.
The new government — whether of Nawaz Sharif, or of PTI-backed independents — will most likely be busy fixing its broken economy, which is seeing mounting debts, a balance of payments crisis, as the country has been forced to take loans just to pay interest on its existing loans.
With the gross domestic product growth projected to remain below 2 per cent and inflation soaring into double digits, and another round of bail out package from International Monetary Fund extremely likely, pressing issues with India are expected to be sidelined and on the backburner.
The Pakistan Army is likely to remain unpopular among a large section of Pakistanis, given its treatment of former prime minister Khan and the imposition of Nawaz Sharif, it will continue to hold sway and even a veto, most importantly on issues related to relations with India and Pakistan's foreign policy more broadly.
This means that all the major decisions regarding Pakistan's relations with India will continue to be made in Rawalpindi, not in Islamabad.
Unless, of course, we see a trend reversal in the election results, where Nawaz Sharif wins all the remaining seats with a complete majority, enabling him to adopt a stance divergent from the Army's — something that is unlikely to happen.
Sharif is likely to be the next Prime Minister, but he will remain fairly weak given the lack of sanity of the elections and his acceptability as the leader. This will most likely keep him from trying to wrestle the control of policy towards India from the Army, something he has tried to do in the past, when he was relatively more powerful, but failed.
Moreover, even the most ardent opposers of the Army, the PTI, shares the same hardline stance of the Army towards India, ie, talks with New Delhi only after it rolls back the abrogation of Article 370 from the Indian constitution, a condition no Indian government, irrespective of the party in power post May 2024, will fulfill.
Although Nawaz Sharif has signalled a willingness to normalise relations with India, several times in the past — when Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Lahore (2016) in a surprise visit — and, more recently — in December 2023 last year when he vowed to improve the relationship with India, if his party comes to power.
However, he will not be in a rush to do so.
A politically diminished Sharif will likely remain a puppet of the Army.
Given the myriad of internal challenges confronting Rawalpindi, including economic turmoil, the escalating jihadist threat from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, border disputes with Afghanistan, and ongoing assaults by Baloch liberation fighters, the Army too is likely to prioritise domestic issues over ties with New Delhi.
Editorial Associate at Swarajya. Writes on Indian Military and Defence.
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