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Business News/ News / World/  Pakistan polls today: Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto to Imran Khan - Key contenders and their stand on India
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Pakistan polls today: Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto to Imran Khan - Key contenders and their stand on India

Pakistan Election 2024: There are three main contenders to lead the next government in Pakistan. While Imran Khan stays in jail, here's a look at key Pakistan's prime minister candidates and their stance on India in the past.

Pakistan Election 2024: Nawaz Sharif (L), Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari (R)Premium
Pakistan Election 2024: Nawaz Sharif (L), Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari (R)

Pakistan general elections are set to be held on February 8 after months of delay. The country has been at the centre of political, economic and even judicial drama over the past year. However, many voters still wonder if the balloting can bring any real change in the country.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is also India's immediate neighbour (or rival) as several disputes remain unsolved between the two countries. India has often accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists, while Pakistan wants to fight India over the Kashmir issue and the Indus Waters Treaty.

ALSO READ: Opinion | What if India and Pakistan actually got along?

In this situation, the stand of Pakistan's new prime minister on India could be important to understand. So, here's a look at Pakistan's prime minister candidates and their stance on India in the past.

There are three main contenders to lead the next government:

1. Nawaz Sharif

Nawaz Sharif is a leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. He is the only Pakistani politician who became the prime minister of the coup-prone country for a record three times. However, each term has ended with his ousting from power, in 1993, 1999 and 2017. He has been dubbed as the "Lion of Punjab".

Stand on India: Nawaz Sharif promised a 'Message of Peace' to India in his party manifesto. But this promise was on the condition that New Delhi would revert its August 2019 decision (abrogation of Article 370) on Kashmir, Pakistani media Dawn reported while quoting the manifesto.

Nawaz Sharif, who returned from exile recently, had last year acknowledged India's progress and global advancements, DD News had reported. It quoted Sharif as saying that while neighbouring countries have achieved feats like reaching the moon, Pakistan has struggled to elevate itself.

According to an analysis by the Hindustan Times, Nawaz Sharif "has a credible track record of seeking rapprochement with India". The report added that "Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a soft corner for Nawaz Sharif". During Nawaz’s tenure, PM Modi had made a surprise visit to Pakistan, the first such visit in over a decade.

The analysis further mentioned that if Nawaz Sharif rises to power again, there is a possibility that India might resume some trade and traditional ties with Pakistan. "These are not going to be big ticket items, but some sort of normalcy could be restored," it said.

ALSO READ: Disqualified, self-exiled, return: Timeline of Nawaz Sharif's political fall and resurrection

2. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari

Bilawal Bhutto is the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). He is the son of Benazir Bhutto, the world's first Muslim woman leader, who was twice elected prime minister and assassinated in 2007. His father Asif Ali Zardari served as the 11th president of Pakistan from September 2008 to September 2013. He has been dubbed as a millennial candidate.

Bilawal became Pakistan’s youngest foreign minister in 2022 in the coalition government, led by Nawaz and his brother Shehbaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which ousted Imran Khan in 2022. However, he said that he would not become the country's top diplomat under Nawaz Sharif if the ex-prime minister comes back to power in Thursday's election.

Stand on India: In May 2023, when he was the foreign minister of Pakistan, Bilawal Bhutto had criticized India for hosting a tourism conference in the disputed region of Kashmir under its control. He even accused India of "abusing" its G20 presidency. He had also objected to the abrogation of Article 370

In a video, he could be heard saying that his party PPP always advocated the normalisation of ties with India, However, amid the India-Canada diplomatic row, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said it was time for the international community to accept that India had become a “rogue Hindutva terrorist state", Dawn reported.

ALSO READ: Pakistan's Bilawal Bhutto Zardari arrives in India for SCO summit

He also called Prime Minister Narendra Modi "the butcher of Gujarat" during a news conference at the United Nations in December 2022. His statement was in response to India's External Affairs minister S Jaishankar’s remarks, who had called Pakistan “the host of Osama bin Laden" and the “perpetrator of terrorism".

According to the HT analysis, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is believed to not have the maturity to deal with India, "considering his family has been anti-India since his grand-father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto decided to wage war against India".

Another main contender: Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, the main opposition leader, cannot fight this year's general election. He has been barred from contesting the polls following a series of jail sentences. His party PTI had won the 2018 general election and he became the prime minister until his ouster in a no-confidence vote in 2022.

Despite being in jail, Imran Khan's influence still looms large. According to Reuters, the PTI will hope to exploit supporters' sympathy and anger and repeat its 2018 victory. But amidst a continuing standoff with the military, PTI's prospects hinge on a detente with the generals, which looks unlikely.

Imran Khan's stance on India: In June 2023, Imran Khan had said it was supposed to be a quid-pro-quo relationship with India. “India was supposed to give some sort of a road map for Kashmir and I was then going to hos Narendra Modi in Pakistan...but that never materialised," he said this in an interview with the Atlantic Council, a prominent US-based think tank.

In 2019, Imran Khan had asked his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to "give peace a chance" and assured him that he "stands by" his words and will "immediately act" if New Delhi provides Islamabad with "actionable intelligence" on the Pulwama attack. Later in 2021, Khan had welcomed the ceasefire agreement with India and said Islamabad remains ready to move forward to resolve "all outstanding issues" through dialogue.

About Pakistan Election 2024

The February 8 elections will take place for 336 seats in Pakistan's National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, along with four provincial assemblies.

Around 18,000 candidates are in the fray for the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, news agency PTI reported. As many as 44 political parties will compete on Thursday.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Published: 06 Feb 2024, 06:04 AM IST
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