NEW DELHI, May 12: Indians across the board on Sunday saluted the people of Pakistan for their determined fight to protect and advance democracy in their troubled country as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited the clear winner to New Delhi to resume the bonhomie cut short by a military coup that toppled Mr Nawaz Sharif 14 years ago.

Dr Singh wrote on his official Twitter account, “Congratulations to Mr Nawaz Sharif and his party for their emphatic victory in Pakistan’s elections.”

The Indian prime minister, beleaguered by a slew of corruption charges that have forced senior ministers to quit, congratulated “the people and the political parties of Pakistan for braving the threats of violence and voting in large numbers” in Saturday’s election.

He said he hoped to work with Mr Sharif to chart “a new course for the relationship” between the two countries and invited him to “visit India at a mutually convenient time”.

Indian journalist Karan Thapar who was in Pakistan to cover the polls lauded the voters on Sunday. “As we await the election results from Pakistan — and I believe we should have a clear idea of the outcome before the day is out, even if the outcome is not clear! — let’s pause and consider what sort of campaign it’s been. This was for many reasons a litmus test for Pakistan. And it’s passed it creditably. That deserves recognition,” Thapar wrote.

“First, it’s been an exceptionally, actually an unprecedentedly, violent campaign. Declaring ‘We are not in favour of democracy’, the Taliban threatened to bomb the electoral rallies of secular parties like the PPP, the MQM and the ANP. By one reliable count, on an average 10 to 15 people were killed daily. As Bushra Gohar of the ANP put it: ‘This is pre-poll rigging’. You could hardly disagree.

“Yet that didn’t deter candidates. They found ways, effective or symbolic, of overcoming this hurdle. In the process some martyred themselves for the cause of democracy.”

The Hindu said Dr Singh’s strategic policy managers heaved a sigh of relief over the relatively decisive mandate because this was the second item on India’s wishlist. The first was parties contesting the elections in Pakistan not bringing India on their agendas.

“Bilateral ties between India and Pakistan had stalled late last year over security issues — the hanging of Kashmiri separatist Afzal Guru and Mumbai attacker Ajmal Kasab, a skirmish that ended with the beheading of an Indian soldier, and the beating to death of two prisoners in each other’s jails,” The Hindu noted.

It said Dr Singh’s security managers felt the clear mandate would make it much easier to work with Islamabad in building up a bilateral relationship. But it would be ideal if the new government was more in control of security and foreign policy issues.

The Hindu said its sources had in mind the Mumbai attacks of 2008 and the Kargil attack almost a decade earlier, both under the watch of democratic governments in Pakistan. “These attacks completely roiled the delicate political and diplomatic attempts at mending bilateral fences. Between Kargil and Mumbai, public mood towards Pakistan was soured, as the police blamed many of the bomb blasts on Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).”

The government feels that India’s vastly improved political, military and economic balance with Pakistan has removed anxieties in dealing with Islamabad, The Hindu said. “But doubts about Pakistan’s Deep State charting an independent path persist.”

Agencies add: President Barack Obama congratulated Pakistan on its parliamentary elections and said Washington was ready to work “as equal partners” with its next government.

“My administration looks forward to continuing our cooperation with the Pakistani government that emerges from this election as equal partners in supporting a more stable, secure and prosperous future for the people of Pakistan,” Mr Obama said in a statement.

He congratulated “the people of Pakistan on the successful completion of yesterday’s parliamentary elections”.

“The United States stands with all Pakistanis in welcoming this historic peaceful and transparent transfer of civilian power, which is a significant milestone in Pakistan’s democratic progress,” he said.

“By conducting competitive campaigns, freely exercising your democratic rights, and persevering despite intimidation by violent extremists, you have affirmed a commitment to democratic rule that will be critical to achieving peace and prosperity for all Pakistanis for years to come,” he said.

Secretary of State John Kerry added his congratulations for the vote, which marks the first time that one elected civilian administration will hand over power to another after a full term in office.

He also commended Pakistanis for standing “up resiliently to threats by violent extremists”, referring to the Taliban violence that marred the election campaign.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the incoming government to help negotiate an end to the Taliban militancy in his country.

“We hope that the government paves the way for peace and brotherhood with Afghanistan and cooperates in fighting terrorism and sincerely rooting out terrorist sanctuaries,” Mr Karzai said.

The two countries needed to work together to be “saved from the menace of terrorism”, he said in a statement, welcoming Saturday’s high voter turnout as a sign that people wanted democracy despite threats from militants.


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