• Saturday, February 24, 2024

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Grappling with domestic challenges, Pakistan leaders avoid anti-India rhetoric in poll 2024

In a break from tradition, they were more absorbed in issues related to poverty, inflation, economy and development in this election.

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) party Nawaz Sharif speaks during an election campaign rally in Lahore on January 29, 2024, ahead of the upcoming general elections. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP) (Photo by ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

WHENEVER elections take place in Pakistan, a mention of India is never far away. Anti-India rhetoric was always a high point in speeches made by the country’s top leaders in the run-up to the electoral battles.

To give an example of anti-India rhetoric by Pakistani politicians, former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had said in the 1970s targeting the neighbouring country that Pakistan would fight for a thousand years and if India attained the nuclear bomb, the people of the country would eat grass but not compromise on getting a bomb of their own.

The situation in 2024 has seen no rosy affairs between India and Pakistan. The Narendra Modi government of India has maintained a hard stance on Pakistan over cross-border terrorism saying talks and terror could not go hand in hand.

Read: Imran Khan may be jailed, but his allies running close race with Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N

In Pakistan, on the other hand, problems are galore over its relations with neighbours such as India, Iran and Afghanistan. The Pakistani establishment has expressed strong objection to India’s abolishing Article 370 of its constitution that gave Jammu and Kashmir a special status. Terrorism has posed a major threat to the common people of the country. Economic hardships have also crippled the nation and people have been found fighting for a sack of flour.

But despite several of these problems, a mention of India or Kashmir did not find priority in speeches made by the parties and their leaders ahead of the general elections held on Thursday (8). While previous elections saw Pakistani politicians trying to mobilise mass support by attacking India and raking up the alleged human rights violation in Kashmir, they were more absorbed in issues related to poverty, inflation, economy and development in this election.

Read: Pakistan: Caretaker PM lauds voters even as violence, internet outage hit polling

Pakistan’s foreign policy has also taken a blow over the years, particularly its ties with the US. Once a leading recipient of American aid, Islamabad over the years lost Washington’s trust over tackling terror groups on its soil and operational across the border. During the tenure of Imran Khan as the prime minister, Pakistan’s relations with the US plunged further as he criticised Washington and tried to cozy up more with China.

Among the major players contesting the election in Pakistan, three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to better ties with India more than either Khan or the Pakistan People’s Party’s Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. If Sharif wins and Modi returns as the prime minister in India for the third successive term, they are likely to work towards normalisation of relations.

But if candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf win the election, it will be interesting to see how the bilateral ties between the two South Asian rivals play out in the near future.

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