Public Opinion Critical To India, Pak Peace

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Pakistan’s all-powerful Army chief  General Qamar Javed Bajwa has backed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s peace initiatives, saying the new government has extended a hand of peace and friendship towards India with utmost sincerity. He, however, added that such overtures should not be taken “as Islamabad’s weakness”. Bajwa’s statement endorses Khan’s earlier assertion that the civilian government and the Army were on the same page when it came to relations with New Delhi. But so far New Delhi has hardly warmed to Khan’s repeated offers, now even supported by the country’s Army. This, despite the fact, that the new Pakistan government has made good-will gestures like the opening of Kartarpur corridor and releasing an Indian captive Nihal Ansari. On the contrary, New Delhi has not only rebuffed peace overtures but also made many an antagonistic statement. 

One reason for this is India’s upcoming general elections during which a conciliatory approach towards Pakistan is seen as detrimental to a party’s electoral chances. At one level it is ironic. If anything, this shows there is no constituency for a dialogue between India and Pakistan. And in the absence of such a constituency, one can hardly be hopeful for any ruling party in New Delhi being keen about engagement with Islamabad even after an election.  

Many factors are responsible for it. The talks and their attendant troubled fallout has always made the leaders of India and Pakistan chary of pursuing them in the run up to an election. But this is a reality that is now increasingly more specific to India than Pakistan. India is now hardly a divisive issue in Pakistan polls, but Pakistan is in India’s.  More hostile you appear towards Pakistan, better chances for a party to farewell electorally. 

True, this mass hatred against Pakistan is not intrinsic to India, it has been painstakingly created over the years by the rightwing political parties and its allied media.  In fact, the latter now do it even independently of the political influence. They have successfully commercialized the hate and hence have developed a vested interest in its perpetuation. This has raised the cost for the engagement with Pakistan for any ruling party in New Delhi. And this is unlikely to change unless India’s right stops manufacturing and playing to Pakistan hate for electoral benefits. The stakes are too big for the region for the neighbours to remain in a perpetual state of estrangement.

It is time they take concrete steps to overcome it and pave way for a durable peace in the region. As recent Pakistan polls testify, anti-India rhetoric wasn’t a tool used by the political parties to garner votes. But in India, it is still the case. It is time the country’s political parties also outgrow this tendency to help create a public opinion that is favourable to a sustained engagement with Pakistan.

 
 

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