File photo. Photograph:( PTI )
The countdown for the Pakistan general elections has begun. On July 25th, Pakistan will vote for a government after a brief but acrimonious campaign, complicated by a string of attacks - including the second deadliest bombing in Pakistan's history - which have prompted security fears.
The next week's elections will be closely watched by India and can throw up surprises. These elections are being held under the shadow of Pakistan's powerful military and the observers have slammed "blatant" attempts to manipulate the ballot.
Key players and their stance on India
Cricketer-turned-politician is slowly emerging as a potential favourite - thanks to widely perceived help from the army. Commenting on the military's influence in Pakistan's foreign policy, Khan said, "The army will get involved where there are security situations. We have had military influence on politics in Pakistan because we have had the worst political governments. I am not saying it is justified but where there is a vacuum, something will fill it."
In his campaign, he vows for a better India-Pakistan relationship, but has previously accused India of having an "aggressive anti-Pakistan posture."
"Sharif tried everything, even personal (gestures) like calling him (Narendra Modi) over to his house. No one got in his way. But I think it is the policy of the Narendra Modi government to try and isolate Pakistan. They have a very aggressive anti-Pakistan posture. What can one do in the face of this attitude?" the 65-year-old leader was quoted as saying by Pakistan media.
Twenty-nine-year-old Bilawal Bhutto has little experience and the chance of election victory for his family's Pakistan People’s Party is deemed low.
That is why the young PPP leader is heard talking about post-poll alliances. Bilawal said that whichever party is ready to execute PPP's philosophy, and accepts their demands, can work with them. Bilawal stressed that the best situation would be for the coalition government to be led by the PPP.
The PPP chairman has, in the past, spoken about systematically bettering India-Pak relations, saying that it would take some time but he hopes for better neighbourhood affiliations. Previously, his late mother, Benazir Bhutto and grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, at numerous occasions reached out to India.
Nawaz Sharif/Shehbaz Sharif
The widely-held perception both in Pakistan and India was that ousted former PM Nawaz Sharif was India’s best play since he was seen as being soft on India. In his last stint as prime minister, he was careful in not making statements that could be construed as anti-India.
But, the Pakistan army was upset over the excellent personal equations between Modi and Sharif that culminated in the Indian PM’s visit to Lahore to personally wish Sharif on his birthday in 2015 and Sharif’s presence at PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony a year ago.
Shehbaz Sharif is expected to follow his brother's footsteps. Shehbaz has previously asked India to resume peace talks with Islamabad, saying the Singapore summit between the US and North Korea should set a good precedent for both the bickering neighbours to follow.
Khan, Bhutto, Sharif: Who could be the best bet for India?
Having Imran Khan as the next PM could be a tough sell. Even though he has promised to address the Kashmir issue and give every Kashmiri a chance to speak out, many say he is being supported by the Pakistan army.
Bilawal Bhutto, the young politician, has attacked Nawaz Sharif for having an easy perspective over the Kashmir dispute and slammed his friendship with PM Modi. He was quoted as declaring that he would "take back Kashmir, all of it, and not leave behind a single inch of it because, like the other provinces, it belongs to Pakistan." He has also held rallies to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir.
Shehbaz Sharif, who has now become PML-N's leader after his brother Nawaz's arrest, could potentially be the best bet for India as he could be seen following Nawaz's soft stance which will mean continuity in the policies of Pakistan's civilian leadership. "It is time for comprehensive peace talks in our region. The international community must focus on the peace process in Afghanistan. Dialogue between Pakistan and India over Kashmir should also resume so that the long-festering Kashmir dispute is resolved in accordance with the UN resolutions," Shehbaz has said in a series of tweets.
So, it will be interesting to see which party comes to power in Pakistan. And to what extent it can go for holding talks with India over Kashmir, cross-border security, militant groups and foreign policy - some of New Delhi's top concerns - under the shadow of Pakistan's powerful army.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)