Islamabad: When it comes to India and Pakistan, it is a delicate irony: one of the warmest periods in generally frosty relations came not during rule by the leftist Congress party but under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
So as Pakistan watches events during India’s election, many will be quietly hoping that, if victorious, BJP leader Narendra Modi might follow the example of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the last BJP prime minister to govern India, whose tenure overlapped with Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s last period in power in the late 1990s.
At that time relations between the two countries warmed considerably, with both sides agreeing to discuss all the issues between them without getting stuck on the question of Kashmir.
Pakistani supporters of better ties with India have long looked to Vajpayee’s time in power as a model of how a right-wing, staunchly nationalist party could make the sort of concessions that the left-wing Congress party has proved unable to.
“The Congress government was always looking over its shoulder for fear of being attacked by the right,” said Miftah Ismail, a special adviser to Sharif and chairman of Pakistan’s Board of Investment. “The BJP won’t have that problem, and I think after a few months of huffing and puffing they will be in a better position to trade with us.”
Many in the Pakistani business community, eyeing the huge market next door, are particularly keen for an improvement in relations, which they say could deliver a much needed economic windfall to Pakistan.
Sharif, in common with other mainstream Pakistani politicians, says it is vital for India and Pakistan to overcome decades of suspicion, open up their shared border and dramatically increase the feeble level of commercial exchange between the two sides.