India and its Neighbourhood

Narendra Modi: Perspectives within Pakistan

30 May, 2014    ·   4477

Samundeswari Natesan looks at the different opinions in the country on the Indian Prime Minister

Samundeswari Natesan
Samundeswari Natesan
Research Intern

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s landslide victory in the Indian general elections has made the world focus on India-Pakistan bilateral relations, among other issues. Within Pakistan, opinions on Modi are varied, with with one group of people favoring Modi’s government and the other group against him.

This article will look at the perspectives within Pakistan and whether Pakistan is keen on normalising relations with India.

One section of people in Pakistan strongly believes in the perception that Modi was behind the 2002 massacres in Gujarat and that he will work against the interests of Muslim majority-Pakistan. One among them is Pakistan’s military, who were against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s participation in Narendra Modi’s swearing in ceremony. The Army Chief Raheel Sharif recommended the Prime Minister to send high-powered delegates and to avoid going to India himself. The reason for this is the Pakistani military’s view that Modi is a threat to their national security and that if he comes to power there will be a definite revamp in India’s defence posture.  
This anti-Modi sentiment is not only prevalent within the military elite in Pakistan but is also present in lower sections of society. For instance, Asif Bajwa, a taxi driver in Karachi, said, “Modi is a monster. He is responsible for the killing of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat. Pakistan should break ties with India if he becomes the prime minister.” Abuzar Sharif, a Pakistani journalist, said, “Modi is considered not only an anti-Pakistan politician, but also an anti-Islamic Hindu fanatic.”

The opposition expected from jihadist groups is also visible. For instance, Jamaat-e-Islami and its secretary general Liaqat Baloch said, “These Hindus are not anyone’s friends.” Taking these factors into consideration, it is evident that anti-Modi rhetoric is still prevalent in Pakistan.   

However, despite opposition to Modi within Pakistan, there is also a section that is in favour of his government in India. There is an allegation that a few business elites in Pakistan were backing Modi to win the election in the hope that he would liberalise the rigid trade policy that was followed under the UPA government. In addition, the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) are also in favour of Modi’s government as they expect that Modi will increase Pakistan’s trade and investments in India.

The optimistic outlook on Modi’s rise to power is partially rooted in history. For instance, former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s trip to Lahore in 1999 and the signing of the Lahore Declaration paved a way for the normalisation of relations between the countries. Based on this, analysts predict that the BJP-led government in India under Modi may follow his predecessor’s path to try and better bilateral relations by taking similar steps.       
The Pakistani advisor on foreign policy and national security, Sartaj Aziz, said, “….pre-election rhetoric is a different thing after election I think the peace constituency in both the countries is strong and I hope the BJP government if they come to power will respond to that.” This shows that the civilian government in Pakistan is much in favour of the BJP-led Modi government in India. This however is opposed by the Pakistani military.

Is Pakistan Keen on Normalisation?
The division between the civilian government and military forces in Pakistan is contributing to the widening of the India-Pakistan rift. The military and extremist leaders in Pakistan are against Prime Miniser Nawaz Sharif’s intention to speed the normalisation of relations with India. Despite the fact that Sharif formed a majority government and is a pro-business man, he has not been able to grant the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status to India due to opposition from the military.

The process of normalisation between India and Pakistan will intensify if Pakistan is able to settle the conflict of opinions within its country. Nawaz Sharif’s presence in Modi’s swearing-in ceremony and the release of Indian fishermen from Pakistani imprisonment was done against the wishes of the Pakistani military. Sharif made a bold decision and set a precedent by demonstrating that the Pakistani government will work with India to settle the long persisting issues between the two countries.
It is presumed that Sharif is tied down by the military, and that Modi is tied down to his Hindutva ideology. It remains to be seen to what extent both can move forward to better bilateral ties despite these issues.