Dr Mujahid Mughal
It might sound astonishing to many, but the historical facts reveal that India and Pakistan, the otherwise arch rivals, have always come closer, when Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the right-wing nationalist party, was ruling India. On the contrary, the relations between two nuclear powers of Asia, reached their nadir, when the Congress party was at the helm of affairs in India which is considered centrist, in nature, by many.
Before we proceed further we need to keep in mind that since the British left India, after the creation of two dominions of India and Pakistan, in 1947, by and large, it has been the Congress party, who remained in power, barring 9 years and approximately 2 months, when BJP rose to the thrones in 1996 (for 13 days only), 1998 (to April 1999), October 1999 (to May 2004) and finally in May 2014 (to 2019).
Therefore, Indo Pak relations, at present owe most of it to Congress. In fact, BJP came with a full majority, only once, in 2014 under the leadership of Narendra Modi when it secured 282 seats in the general assembly elections.
The issue of contention between the two neighbors is Jammu and Kashmir, over which both the countries have fought four wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999, excluding the recent escalation in February 2019, if we don’t call it a war. It is pertinent to note that all these wars have been fought with Pakistan when the Congress party was leading India except during Kargil.
It was hence, Congress only that assisted the secessionists of the then East Pakistan to carve Bangladesh, out of Pakistan, in 1971. There are many other politico strategic developments during the Congress rule of India when the Indo Pak relations went from bad to the worse. However, the present piece doesn’t allow to detail them. It intends to trace the positive developments, ever occurred between India and Pakistan, and the role BJP played in them.
* The first major positive development took place between Indo Pak relations, during the year 1999, when the then Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee rode a bus to Pakistan’s historical city Lahore, to meet with the then Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, to sign a peace accord. This was the year when Nawaz Sharif said: “Vajpayee Sahab can now win an election in Pakistan”. This was perhaps the closest, India Pakistan relations were at. Vajpayee too, opined that we can’t change neighbors.
* In the year 2001, Parvez Musharraf, after ousting the Nawaz Government, in a Coup de tat, visited India, for striking the negotiations to resolve the conflict between the two countries. During the same year, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and General Parvez Musharraf met in the Agra, India, in an attempt to sign the peace accord. It is widely known that during the Agra Summit an accord was round the corner when the two leaders were ready to sign the document, but for a late intrusion by some bureaucrats.
* It brought millions a ray of hope when Parvez Musharraf walked to handshake with Vajpayee, at Kathmandu summit 2002, at the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, wherein leaders from 7 south Asian countries participate.
* In a similar fashion, in the year 2004, an outstanding attempt was made between the two countries when Musharraf and Vajpayee held talks, reviving bilateral relations, to settle the outstanding issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. During the same visit, Atal Bihari Vajpayee delivered various speeches, and recited his mesmerizing poem “Ab Jung Na Hone Denge Hum”.
* It was a historic moment when in 2005, Lal Krishan Advani of BJP, standing before Jinnah’s tomb in Pakistan, described the founder of Pakistan as a secular man and an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. Similar views about Jinnah were expressed by Jaswant Singh, the former Finance Minister of India, in the year 2009.
* Following Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to New Delhi, in his inauguration ceremony, instilling hope in many.
* To everybody’s utter surprise, Narendra Modi went a step ahead and visited Pakistani city of Lahore, in 2015, on the occasion of Nawaz Sharif’s birthday, and to participate in the marriage ceremony of his granddaughter. This gesture was appreciated world over.
* Fresh hopes were sparked when Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif met on the sidelines of a regional summit (BRICS and SCO) in the Ufa town of Russia in the year 2015. The talks indeed gave a fresh start to the stalled bilateral dialogue process between the two countries.
* Who does not remember the much-discussed meeting of AjitDoval and his counterpart Lt. General Nasir Khan Janjua, in 2017, in a ‘neutral venue’ in Bangkok. This was another positive attempt at building the torn ties.
* Even after the deadly Pulwama suicide attack, wherein a Kashmiri militant of JeM, killed at least 40 Indian soldiers, and after which both the countries were on the verge of full-fledged war, Narendra Modi took the initiative to send his Pakistani counterpart a message and greetings on the National Day of Pakistan. “I extend my greetings and best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that people of subcontinent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive and prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence”. The message was welcomed by Pakistan and Imran Khan responded that “I welcome PM Modi’s message to our people. As we celebrate Pakistan Day, I believe it is time to begin a comprehensive dialogue with India to address and resolve all issues, especially the central issue of Kashmir”.
From the track record of BJP, it can be hoped that India and Pakistan may come close, as assumed by Imran Khan in an interview in April 2019, wherein he prophesized that ‘if Modi comes to power again, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached”. Furthermore, BJP is a right-wing party and has a strong right-wing support base, which Congress, in spite of practicing soft Hindutva, can never have, in the times to come. This may help BJP of not affecting the domestic constituency while initiating the dialogue on all issues with Pakistan, including the core issue- Jammu and Kashmir dispute. Hence with BJP ruling India, one can have more hopes about the conflict resolutions between India and Pakistan.
(The author is an Assistant Professor of Geography, in the Higher Education Department, Government of Jammu and Kashmir)
Dr Mujahid Mughal