Pakistan’s Elections and Positions of China and India

Monday, August 13, 2018

Somaye Morovati

The year 2018 can be considered as a year of elections for Pakistan. The country held its senate elections in March, went through national assembly or parliamentary elections last month, and is in for presidential polls during the current month. The change at all levels of political structure in Pakistan in a matter of a year will certainly have profound effects on the country’s domestic and foreign policies. The senate elections were won by the Pakistan Muslim League, from which the current president also hails. Although the party was predicted to win the elections for the national assembly and form the next government, this did not happen in reality.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won the parliamentary elections despite the fact that it had finished the third in senate elections. There are many reasons to cast doubt on this victory, but it is clear that a group of powerful figures in Pakistan is trying to drive the Pakistan Muslim League away from leadership of the country. Many analysts have pointed an incriminating finger at the country’s army and have many reasons to back up their claim. Those reasons include dissatisfaction of the army with the government’s policies, especially in the field of foreign policy. During recent years and throughout Pakistan’s negotiations with the United States, management of security talks with the US by the Pakistani army, especially its intelligence branch, had been set as a condition for the continuation of those negotiations. The Pakistani government, however, did not agree to that condition and this was one of the reasons, which led to the abortion of a two-billion-dollar deal between the United States and Pakistan. Now, following victory of Imran Khan, who leads Tehreek-e-Insaf party and is supported by the army and some radical groups, this victory can decrease grievances of these two powerful groups about the status quo in the country.

Just in the same way that it has changed the exiting trends inside Pakistan, the election win of Imran Khan has also sent new waves that affect understanding of the outlook for Pakistan’s foreign relations. That understanding will determine possible approaches to be taken by Pakistan’s neighboring countries to political ups and downs in Islamabad. Iran, Afghanistan, China and India are Pakistan’s neighbors who have been carefully monitoring internal developments in the country. To understand their positions regarding the recent developments in this country, a first step is to be aware of Pakistan’s understanding of its own regional standing, where it is headed, what are its priorities inside and outside borders, and finally, what is the position of every one of those countries in Pakistan’s political system. If these questions were answered, half the analytical work in this regard would be done. It must be noted that these actors monitor each other on the basis of the “wise actor” theory and act in accordance with the result of their monitoring. Therefore, the positions of China and India on Pakistan cannot be understood without taking their viewpoints toward Pakistan into consideration. Any change on either side of borders with make the other side follow up on that change painstakingly to see if there is a need to revise its past policies toward that country or not.

This question is posed more seriously with respect to Pakistan, because its political system is somehow based on a hidden institution-based system, some of whose features, like the power of the army and intelligence organizations, are beyond doubt and everybody knows that the army sets direction in Pakistan’s relations with other countries, especially neighboring states. Therefore, relationship of candidates with the army will determine their degree of success in foreign policy and allow them to follow up on their policies. Now, despite all criticism, speculations, and accusations, Imran Khan has been introduced as the final victor of Pakistan’s parliamentary elections and the next prime minister. His previous defeat in 2013 showed him that by opposing radical groups and the role of the army in politics, he could not remain at high levels of power. Therefore, he changed his course and in recent elections, the army and radical groups supported him. His win means that the army will have an open hand in countering India and pursuing its anti-Indian policy at all levels. Now, the Pakistani army is hopeful that through prime minister’s support, it would have more latitude to do what it wants through Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed radical groups in India or in Muslim-dominated regions in China, or even in southern regions of Afghanistan. The noteworthy point is that even Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, who is the founder of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, supported Tehreek-e-Insaf in recent elections, though his organization has been designated by the United States as a terrorist outfit due to a number of terrorist acts.

Imran Khan, however, is a very complicated person and cannot be solely understood on the basis of the support of the army and radical groups for him. Elections in 2013 and the change of course for victory can be good guides for obtaining a preliminary understanding of him. He is a person with an international approach who does not solely focus on such regional actors as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. I believe that attention to his remarks both before and after victory will reveal highlights of those remarks as follows: 1. ending sensitivities over border regions and hostility toward neighbors; 2. priority of domestic development; and 3. all-out effort to attract investment to Pakistan. These three points can also shed light on his position on China and India as well. Of course, there are factors that always disturb the regional equations and can defuse all predictions. India’s problem with Pakistan is of security and identity nature, but its problem with China is more of an economic nature. China wants to establish its own economic corridor with Pakistan to connect Xinjiang to the Arabian Sea and to provide a route for goods transit. It will also help China to avoid the unsafe Strait of Malacca for transfer of energy. India, for its part, wants guarantees about security of borders and expects Pakistan to prevent entry of radical elements into India to conduct operations and incite domestic Islamic groups in India. India and Pakistan, both of whom are nuclear actors in the region, attach the highest priority to security in relations with each other.

Both China and India seek to promote trade and economic relations with the region and the world and both of these factors can be jeopardized with insecurity. Therefore, if an agreement is reached with a Pakistani government that is closer to the army, the possibility of the army trying to block it would be lower and division in the field of foreign policy will be less remarkable. Since Tehreek-e-Insaf is close to radical groups, any agreement with Imran Khan would have those groups’ confirmation or at least would be met with less opposition from them. In one of his speeches, Imran Khan said he would ask the Chinese how they saved 600 million people from absolute poverty. Although this was addressed to people of Pakistan, it appeased the Chinese and was mentioned in their analyses. Now the current government of Pakistan needs foreign investment due to domestic pressures, poverty and hunger, budget crises, reduced value of national currency and so forth. Therefore, other countries can enter into big deals with it and have its cooperation. At least in words, Imran Khan has given priority to reducing poverty, building infrastructure, and restoring security to the entire Pakistan. If this proves to be the real agenda of the Pakistani government, it will have regional and even international cooperation to this end. However, due to regional role of Pakistan in recent years, it is not very likely that its past record in fomenting crisis would be forgotten so easily.

*Photo Credit: hw

More by Somaye Morovati:
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*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.


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