The victory of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the recent general elections in Pakistan poses both challenges and opportunities for India. The challenge would be to engage a newly minted Pakistani Prime Minister who is yet to reveal his way of conducting diplomacy. The opportunity, even so, lies in the fact that the rise of Mr. Khan will enable India to deal with the Pakistani ‘deep state’ more effectively. Mr. Khan’s ‘victory speech’ had several well-meaning and conciliatory references to India which, if logically followed up, could potentially yield long-term benefits for the two countries. But it may be unrealistic to expect much movement in bilateral ties till India’s own general elections are concluded.
The central Indian concern, and a legitimate one, about Mr. Khan’s victory is whether he can independently navigate a sustained policy process with New Delhi. India fears that the Pakistani deep state, i.e. the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), will decide the India policy, and Mr. Khan will merely carry it out, if he is kept in the loop at all.
A related concern is that the Pakistani deep state is not keen on a dialogue process with New Delhi. While it is difficult to predict the nature of the evolving relationship between an extremely popular Mr. Khan with the Pakistani deep state, let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that Mr. Khan will be subservient to the Pakistan army with regard to the country’s security policy. Whether that is desirable for the Pakistani state and its democracy is not a question that should detain us here.
The Kashmir hurdle
In this plausible scenario, Kashmir is likely to be the wild card. Two lessons stand out from earlier India-Pakistan negotiations: talks with Pakistan are unlikely to succeed if Kashmir continues to be a domestic challenge for India; and talks with Kashmiri separatists will not get anywhere without a parallel process with Pakistan.
In other words, unless New Delhi reaches out to Kashmiri separatists and to Pakistan in parallel, a dialogue process with Pakistan is unlikely to succeed. Given that the Bharatiya Janata Party — after having pulled out of a difficult coalition with the Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir — is gearing up to use the Kashmir issue in the upcoming elections, there is unlikely to be much appetite in New Delhi to open a serious dialogue with Kashmiris, and Pakistan.