In a span of three months, the situation between India and Pakistan has moved from heightened tensions following the Pulwama attack to an exchange of amicable statements between leaders of the two countries. At the root of this change is Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan’s congratulatory message to India prime minister-elect Narendra Modi, whose party has made a comeback for a second term with a thumping victory in the recently concluded Lok Sabha election.
However, the reportage and opinions in Pakistan’s media outlets differ from the peace-friendly take of the Pakistan government on Modi’s re-election. Pakistan media was critical of Modi’s leadership, his policies, Hindutva and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
As the counting of votes inched towards its end on 23 May and celebrations commenced at the BJP headquarters in Delhi, Pakistan-based Tribune carried a report terming Modi’s return to power a reinforcement of the “global trend of right-wing populists sweeping to victory, from the United States to Brazil and Italy, often after adopting harsh positions on protectionism, immigration and defence”.
Pakistani commentators likened Modi to “strong men” Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey on the basis of the principles of majoritarian nationalism reflected in the stances and policies of their governments. The overall trend, according to Daily Times, points to the rise of fascism.
While calling Modi’s victory a “win on the back of nationalist, anti-Pakistan rhetoric and a vision of a Hindu-first India” and the triumph of communal politics, Pakistan-based Dawn said that the Indian prime minister’s strategy of “projecting himself as the choreographer of air raids on Balakot” also succeeded in severely bruising a “fractious and unequal opposition”.
India went so far as to escalate tensions by conducting air strikes inside Pakistan in order to whip up nationalist sentiment, another article in Dawn said. “For the world’s largest democracy, the writing is on the wall: communal politics in India has triumphed in an age that will define the future of the republic,” it read.
Though the The Express Tribune commented on the exchange of pleasantries between Khan and Modi as a sign of easing of tensions between the two neighbours, the same news outlet also cited the cases where the Modi regime might have failed the minorities in India, especially the Muslims. One of its stories posited that an outright majority for Modi’s party will likely embolden Hindu groups, who want to assert their dominance in the country, to the alarm of minority Muslims.
Khan’s attempt to maintain “peace, progress and prosperity” in South Asia through interactions with Modi, if successful, is likely to foster India-Pakistan ties resulting in possible solutions to issues relating to trade and security. However, Pakistan media seems hesitant of forming a positive outlook towards Modi and the BJP. This is summed up appropriately in a news report by My Nation, another Pakistan-based news outlet. The editorial says that “lynchings of Muslims and low-caste Dalits for eating beef and slaughtering and trading in cattle have risen, adding to anxiety among India’s 170-million-strong Muslim population”.
Pakistan remained significant in the victorious front’s campaigns in India. Speeches hailed accomplishments against Pakistan, with the Prime Minister-elect and his party repeatedly citing the surgical strikes and Balakot air strikes as an act carried out by “Modi ji ki sena”. A Dawn editorial claimed that anti-Muslim chants and anti-Pakistan sentiments aided BJP’s dominance in the election. “Now that elections are over, we hope that Modi will rein in his rhetoric that had encouraged Hindu extremist groups to step up their intimidation of minorities,” the article read.
Some news outlets in the neighbouring country chimed into the criticism that many BJP leaders faced at the hands of the Opposition and media in India. ARY News TV carried a story which termed Bhopal MP Pragya Singh Thakur as a “terror accused Hindu hardliner”.
In a departure from Khan’s statement deeming cordial India-Pakistan ties essential for peace in the Indian peninsula and Modi’s victory improving chances of related talks, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said Islamabad remains committed to dialogue, irrespective of who forms the government.
Special advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister on information, Firdous Ashiq Awan also told a television channel that the victory of Modi is neither a bad news for Pakistan nor a good news. “We want to engage with India and resolve all difference through talks. For us there is no difference who is leading India,” she said.
Experts are also of the opinion that a paradigm shift in domestic politics and national policies will bring lasting peace to South Asia.