NEW DELHI: Indian foreign policy experts have expressed cautious optimism about an improvement in the country’s relationship with Pakistan following Imran Khan’s rise to power.
Former India ambassador to Pakistan TCA Raghavan said that if Pakistan’s new prime minister was able to provide stable government internally and address the nation’s numerous domestic issues, it “will create the basis for better relations with India.”
Raghavan, author of “The People Next Door: The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations,” said: “It’s difficult to make predictions about India-Pakistan relations at any time. But in my view the internal situation in Pakistan has a great role to play in determining the course of the relationship.”
Sudheendra Kulkarni, a peace activist and adviser to the former prime minister Atal Behari Vajppayee, described Khan’s leadership as a “new beginning for Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent.”
“The past four years have been a wasted opportunity in taking the India-Pakistan relationship forward,” he said. “Nawaz Sharif was a leader with a thorough commitment to a better relationship with New Delhi, but the Narendra Modi regime could not sustain the initial hopes when it invited the leader of the Islamic republic to a swearing in ceremony in 2014.”
However, Kulkarni cautioned that “we should not expect marked improvement in relations in the next eight to nine months as India is going to have elections early next year.”
Professor Happymon Jacob, of the Center for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “I am positive about Imran Khan. If the Pakistan army and the political establishment are on board, and there is no difference between the two elites, then it becomes easier for India to navigate.
“Under Nawaz Sharif, both the elites were not on the same page regarding India. The present regime in Delhi will not reach out to Pakistan when elections in India are around the corner. If anything wrong goes so far as peace process is concerned, then it will have electoral ramifications. Any revival of peace talks will happen only after the elections.”
India’s leadership reached out to Khan after his election victory with the Ministry of External Affairs saying: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi expresses hope that democracy will take deeper roots in Pakistan and reiterates his vision of peace and development in the entire neighborhood.”
In his victory speech, Khan also said that “Pakistan is ready to improve its ties with India.”
He said that his government hoped the leaders of the two nations can resolve all disputes, including the core issue of Kashmir, through talks.
“If they take one step toward us, we will take two,” he said.
Meanwhile, India cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, a guest at Khan’s swearing in on Saturday, has called for peace on the subcontinent.
“It’s in the interest of both countries that peace prevails. I have come to Pakistan despite all the criticism back home with a message of peace and friendship. We have the same culture, the same way of thinking and, therefore, it is important that we should have a strong bond.”