A spark of hope for India-Pakistan ties
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A spark of hope for India-Pakistan ties

Pakistan cricket fans are seen during a match against India in the T20 Cricket World Cup on Sunday, at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, New York. (Photo: NYT)
Pakistan cricket fans are seen during a match against India in the T20 Cricket World Cup on Sunday, at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, New York. (Photo: NYT)

Despite the long-standing tensions between India and Pakistan, India's recent general election, which saw a narrow victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has seen some analysts become more optimistic about better bilateral relations between the nations.

This optimism hinges on the underwhelming electoral performance of the Modi-led BJP. Mr Modi is certainly disappointed with his party's mediocre performance. The failure to achieve a "super majority" marks one of the biggest setbacks of his political career. While exit polls released on June 1 projected a landslide win for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, the results saw a much closer contest.

The multi-party opposition, led by the Indian National Congress (the INDIA bloc), performed better than most pollsters and pundits expected.

Earlier, Mr Modi and the BJP had been extremely confident about securing 400-plus seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha (the lower house of parliament).

However, the final vote count has altered things dramatically. The evolving electoral landscape promises a compelling narrative for India's democratic journey, with implications for both domestic policies and international relations.

The outcome reflects Mr Modi's dwindling influence and the robust challenge posed by the opposition. As the dust settles, the implications of this electoral outcome will shape India's foreign policy trajectory in the coming years -- particularly towards its archrival, Pakistan.

It is expected that with a relatively weakened hand, Mr Modi could potentially opt for a limited form of détente with Pakistan. The proponents of optimism harbour the belief that Mr Modi, known for his propensity for populist foreign policy manoeuvres, may yet again unleash a "populist surprise" to pave the way for a limited reconciliation between India and Pakistan.

Given Mr Modi's track record of leveraging unexpected diplomatic initiatives to bolster his domestic and international standing, such a move could serve as a means to enhance his image both at home and abroad.

He may do so to divert global attention from India's recent foreign policy debacles. Despite an unprecedented rise in India's global clout and influence in recent years, New Delhi finds itself embroiled in a foreign policy quandary and credibility crisis brought on by a series of alarming incidents.

The trial of former Indian naval officers for sharing classified information with Israel in Qatar in October 2023 exposed the depth of India's espionage activities.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar's assassination in Canada has led to a diplomatic standoff between Ottawa and New Delhi. Similarly, allegations of poisoning Avtar Singh Khanda in the United Kingdom and alleged involvement in Sikh activist killings abroad have tarnished India's global image, prompting Mr Modi to seek swift damage control.

However, India's image was further tarnished by a report by the UK's Guardian newspaper in April, which claimed that India has allegedly conducted operations resulting in the deaths of approximately 20 individuals in Pakistan since 2020 as part of a broader strategy to target "terrorists residing on foreign soil".

This report was indirectly corroborated by Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who said in an interview that India would enter Pakistan to kill anyone who escapes over its border after trying to carry out attacks.

Indeed, Mr Modi and his team purposefully integrated this report into their election campaign strategy, leveraging it to appeal to nationalist sentiments. But India's recent espionage scandals have negatively impacted India's image. The BJP-led government's aggressive tactics abroad have sparked concerns among allies and neighbours alike, creating a trust deficit that undermines India's standing on the global stage. Such actions have not only jeopardised diplomatic relations but also cast doubt on India's ability to pursue its strategic objectives effectively.

As Mr Modi grapples with the fallout from these incidents -- particularly after a relatively "poor" performance in the general election -- being a true populist politician, he is expected to find some "positive surprise" to offset this dilemma of credibility in the global arena.

So, a hypothetical "populist surprise" cannot be ruled out. It could entail a strategic overture from Mr Modi's government.

By positioning himself as a statesman capable of transcending historical enmities in pursuit of regional stability, Mr Modi could try such gimmicks to build his image as a dynamic and positive leader on the global stage.

However, the success of such a gambit would hinge on a myriad of factors, including the response from Pakistan.

While the prospect of a "limited rapprochement" may tantalise optimists, the complex realities of geopolitics dictate that any such initiative would be fraught with challenges and uncertainties.

The Sharif government in Islamabad, known for its inclination towards fostering closer trade ties with India, might react positively, notwithstanding the fervent opposition from former PM Imran Khan and his supporters, who may seize the opportunity to label Sharif as "pro-India".

Generally, expectations are high in Islamabad about a relatively less-hostile Mr Modi in his third term. But the path to lasting peace remains elusive, obscured by the shadows of history and the spectre of unresolved grievances. However, until both nations summon the genuine courage to transcend the ghosts of the past, the elusive dream of rapprochement will remain just that -- a dream.

Dr Imran Khalid is a freelance contributor based in Karachi, Pakistan.

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