Islamabad: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to improve ties with Pakistan, said a leading daily which noted that Modi’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif has produced “several specific breakthroughs”.
An editorial in the Dawn on Saturday over the meeting that took place on Friday between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Modi in Russia said that “progress in the India-Pakistan relationship depends on whether the political leadership is invested in it”.
“Sharif clearly is, but has not demonstrated the ability to convince other institutions, particularly the army, of the imperative to improve ties. Meanwhile, Modi has actually done the opposite of seeking to improve ties,” it said.
The daily said that both sides need to demonstrate they aren’t talking just to show the outside world that they are.
The editorial said that Friday’s meeting “produced several specific breakthroughs that must surely be welcomed in the context of a deteriorating regional security and diplomatic climate”.
“The headlines will focus on Modi accepting the Pakistani premier’s invitation to attend next year’s SAARC summit in Islamabad and if the visit does take place, it would be worth a great deal of symbolism at least, given that Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh was unable to visit in his 10 years as prime minister despite ardently wanting to,” it said.
The daily added: “There is reason to hope the visit will actually take place because Modi has made furthering regional relationships, especially with SAARC countries, a foreign policy priority, even if that approach has thus far tended to exclude Pakistan.”
It noted that a refusal to attend the SAARC summit would also deal a significant blow to the organisation, setting it back even further. “Yet, there is, as always, many a slip between cup and lip in the India-Pakistan relationship.”
The daily went on to say that the decision to focus on how to further the Mumbai-related anti-terrorism trial in Rawalpindi and the mention of specific potential evidence such as the provision of voice samples is also a positive shift from the status quo, which has essentially involved India demanding that Pakistan do more and Pakistan claiming that the trials are in limbo because of India’s non-cooperative approach.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s remark that India would become a “Hindu Pakistan” if the BJP is elected again in 2019, sparked off a major debate among the political circles of the country. BJP didn’t let the opportunity go by launching a scathing attack on Tharoor and his party for insulting Hindus and Indian democracy, forcing the Congress party to distance itself from its own MP’s comment. Only one year is left for the next general elections and in a politically polarised environment such comments serve as masala for political battles where perception is an important factor among the electorates.
Actually, Tharoor, through his statement, is trying to convey that “India may become a
fundamentalist state just like its neighbour — Pakistan”. Tharoor is a shrewd politician and his remarks are mainly for political gains. The comments refer to our neighbour going to polls on 25 th of this month which has a long history of ignoring minorities where the state institutions serve as a tool for glorifying the religious majority bloc and ridiculing the minorities. This compelled me to ponder about the participation of the Hindus — the largest minority bloc of the country, in the upcoming polls.
There are total 37 reserved seats for minorities in Pakistan — 10 in the National Assembly
(Lower House), 4 in the Senate (Upper House) and 23 in various state legislatures — 9 in the Sindh assembly, 8 in Punjab and 3 each in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistani Hindus, like other minorities have the dual voting rights in principle. But the reality is they have no rights to vote for their own representatives as the seats are reserved — means the distribution of these seats are at the discretion of parties’ leadership. Practically speaking, these reserved seats are meant for political parties not for minorities. In case of general seats, it is almost impossible for a Hindu candidate to win until and unless supported by the mainstream parties of the country. The bitter truth is — the mainstream parties have always ignored the Hindus by hesitating to field them from general seats. In 2013, only one Hindu candidate — Mahesh Kumar from the Tharparkar district won from a general seat, also became the only minority candidate to make it to the National Assembly from a general seat. This time too, he is nominated by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — a major centre-left party of Pakistan. However, there are no other Hindu candidates for a general seat from the two other significant centre-right parties — former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI). Although, there is a Hindu candidate named Sanjay Berwani from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — a Karachi (capital of Sindh province) based secular centrist party of Pakistan.
The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures. It means that despite the state’s hostile policies, Hindus have been able to remain stable in a highly Islamist polarised society. 90% of the Hindu population of the country lives in the Sindh province. Hindu population in Umerkot,Tharparkar and Mirpur Khas districts of the Sindh province stands at 49%, 46% and 33% respectively — making them the only three substantial Hindu districts of the country. The three districts have 5 National Assembly and 13 Provincial seats. However, Hindus have never well represented from these seats.
Although, the mainstream parties stay away from nominating Hindus, this time there are many independent Hindu candidates contesting from general seats — mostly from the Sindh province. Many of them belong to the Schedule caste — the Dalit community. A recent report based on Pakistan Election Commission’s data says that out of 2.5 lakh women of Tharparkar district, around 2 lakh of them are not included in the electoral list — means that they are not entitled to vote for the upcoming general elections. All over the country, there are about 1.21 crore women voters who will not be able to vote in the elections. The reason is the lack of an identity card. Most of them are poor who are unable to pay the expenses required for an identity card. This has made difficult for independent Hindu Dalit candidates like Sunita Parmar and Tulsi Balani as most of their supporters will not be voting in the upcoming polls. In Tharparkar district, around 33% percent are the Hindu Dalits — brushed aside by the mainstream parties. The reserved seat candidates are based on party nominations, where mainly the upper caste Hindus are preferred. Radha Bheel, a first time contestant and the chairperson of Dalit Suhaag Tehreek (DST), a Dalit organisation, says that the fight is for the rights of the lower socio-economic class and scheduled castes. Sunita, Tulsi, Radha and the other independent Hindu candidates know
that the possibility of winning from the general seats is bleak but for them the contest is for their own identity — an identity never recognised by the political parties and the establishment of Pakistan.