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Sunday, 18 May 2014

Pakistan cautiously welcomes Modi’s victory

SAFMA Blog » Pakistan cautiously welcomes Modi’s victory

Pakistan cautiously welcomes Modi’s victory

Narendra Modi is hated in Pakistan, but experts say India’s next prime minister has a chance to shed the perception that he is anti-Muslim. His victory in India’s polls could be beneficial for bilateral ties, they say.
On Friday, May 16, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulated the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) leader Modi for his party’s historic victory in the April-May general election.
The initial results indicate that the Hindu nationalist BJP has secured an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha – the lower house of the Indian parliament. Together with its allies, the party is expected to gain over 330 seats in a 545-strong parliament. The Indian National Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, which ruled the South Asian country for a decade, has suffered a devastating defeat and is not expected to win more than 50 seats. Modi is set to become India’s next prime minister.
For most Pakistanis, Modi’s name is synonymous with the 2002 Gujarat riots in which some 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed. The Indian politician, who was the chief minister of the northwestern state at the time, was accused of ordering the police not to intervene in the communal violence.
Can Modi shed the anti-Muslim perception?
The BJP’s victory is proof that Modi is loved by the majority of Indians. But nowhere is the 63-year-old more feared and despised than in the neighboring Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
“Modi is a monster. He is responsible for the killings of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat. Pakistan should break ties with India if he becomes the prime minister,” Asif Bajwa, a taxi driver in Karachi, told DW.
 or a setback?
But observers say that the fact that Pakistani PM Sharif made a phone call to Modi immediately after the Indian election results came out suggests that he does not want the perception about the controversial Indian politician to overshadow Indo-Pakistani ties.
Munawar Saeed Bhatti, Pakistan’s former High Commissioner to the Indian capital New Delhi, says both Sharif and Modi have already showed the willingness to maintain a good working relationship. “Sharif would like to take up matters with the BJP where he left them during his second term as PM from 1997 to 1999,” said the former diplomat. “The election rhetoric won’t have an impact on the relations between the South Asian neighbors,” Bhatti told DW.
Anwer Sen Roy, a Pakistani short-story writer and journalist, says Modi will be a different person when he takes over the reins of government. “The New Delhi government represents the whole of India. Modi will have to follow certain rules of international relations,” Roy said.
The expert gave the example of former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was also a BJP leader, but developed good relations with his Pakistani counterpart Sharif in the late 1990s. “At that time people were apprehensive about the future of the bilateral relations. But we saw that Vajpayee came to Pakistan on Sharif’s invitation and the two leaders signed the historic Lahore Declaration in 1999 to improve ties,” Roy told DW.
Pakistani senator Mushahid Ullah believes it is an excellent opportunity for Modi to shed the widespread perception in the neighboring country that he is against Muslims and Pakistan. “Modi has received a huge mandate. He should make use of it to bring India and Pakistan closer,” Ullah suggested.
Economic interests vs religious sentiments
As much as Modi is disliked by some secular Indians and Pakistanis for his right-wing politics, he is admired by many for spearheading the economic success of the state of Gujarat. Analysts say that the fact that Sharif, too, is a businessman could bring him closer to Modi.
“First of all, let me say that Gujarat is not an economic success. Repeating a lie cannot make it true,” Shakuntala Banaji, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, told DW. “Modi is a pro-rich politician who has made it abundantly clear that his multi-billionaire friends will not have to compete with other businesses. Economic interests can bring Sharif and Modi closer,” she added.
The Pakistani government was close to awarding India the “Most Favored Nation” economic status in December last year. However, the move was postponed. Now that the BJP is set to form the government, Sharif is likely to make a decision on it soon, says DW correspondent in Islamabad, Shakoor Rahim.
‘A blow to secular politics in South Asia’
In an interview last week, Modi said relations with Pakistan could not improve unless the Islamic country stopped militants from carrying out attacks on Indian soil. “The first step in building any meaningful relationship with Pakistan has to be Pakistan taking effective and demonstrable action against the terror networks that operate from its soil,” he told the Times of India media group.
Such comments from Modi have made many people skeptical about the prospect of peace between India and Pakistan. Many observers are of the view that religious sentiments are always more detrimental thaneconomic benefits when it comes to ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
More so, liberal analysts believe Modi’s rise to power will give impetus to right-wing politics in the whole of South Asia.
“A highly contentious figure has been elected in India. Modi unabashedly espouses Hindu nationalist views and has a dismal human rights record,” Dwayne Ryan Menezes, a scholar of religious history at the University of Cambridge, told DW. “Comments by Modi and his allies in various interviews suggest that his government is likely to make India a frightful place for religious minorities.
A legitimization of this ideology will be sufficient to deliver a blow to secular politics in the region, even if Modi simply focuses on the economy and not on extreme right-wing politics,” he added.
But Banaji doubts that India’s prime minister-in-waiting will immediately escalate tensions with Pakistan: “This is usually done only to rally a wilting electorate or appease bloodthirsty allies, something Modi does not need to do for a while yet.” - DW