India-Pakistan Ties Continue to Grow, but Afghanistan Remains Unsettled

By Ali, M. M. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2004 | Go to article overview

India-Pakistan Ties Continue to Grow, but Afghanistan Remains Unsettled


Ali, M. M., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


With the four phases of Indian elections scheduled for completion by mid-May, and ties with Pakistan continuing to show signs of further growth, it still remains difficult to determine which government policies are long-term and which were designed to win the elections. Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's ruling Baharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suddenly developed a warmth toward the country's Muslims and some affection for its Christians as well-and even included some minority candidates on its tickets in the current elections. This is quite a sea change for a party founded on the basis of forming a Hindu state (Hinduthava).

Political analysts are very suspicious of the BJP stance, and have good reason to attribute it to short-term domestic politics. India, of course, is not the only country to witness such policy adjustments at election time. Nevertheless, these tactics may yield some dividends, and BJP can expect to gain more seats in the Lokh Sabha, the lower house of parliament. Another clever tactic would be to keep the BJP's non-Hindu coalition partners in the government, even if BJP wins a clear majority in the parliament. One can therefore expect ministers like George Fernandez to remain in the central cabinet even if the hard-liners increase their parliamentary numbers.

Unfortunately, the Indian National Congress, led by Sonya Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was not able to stem the BJP tide that has been rising for the past decade. Campaigning with her children, Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi, did not produce major results-except that new blood has been injected into Indian politics and, once again, the role of the dynasty was revived.

This has happened on both sides of the political spectrum, with sons and daughters of major industrialists and regional political families throwing their hats in the ring. Since most of India's present leadership is well into its late seventies, the trend augurs well for the future politics of India. While the introduction of the next generation into public life could bring a fresh outlook to the country's social, economic, and political life, much will depend on the post-election policies of the ruling party in Delhi.

The warming of relations between India and Pakistan that began at the January summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has produced some results. New land routes between the two countries have been opened, air travel resumed, cultural teams have crossed borders, and five cricket matches played, creating a more congenial atmosphere between the two old rivals. Although there has been talk of closer and tangible trade relations, there has been little progress, and diplomatic relations between the two neighbors could best be described as warm, not friendly. The one question that Islamabad hopes to address-Kashmir-has yet to be tackled in a meaningful way. Hard-liners on both sides tend to be inflexible on this subject. Some minor progress has been made, reportedly at the insistence of the United States, but how far Washington is willing to exert pressure depends on the outcome of U.S. elections-and on developments in Afghanistan and Iraq. The worsening of the Iraqi situation in recent weeks has defied most U.S. and British projections. Whatever the outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hindu India and, especially, Muslim Pakistan will feel the impact.

The Border Region

Across the border from Pakistan, President Hamid Karzai has yet to gain control of all Afghanistan. …

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