Pakistan’s Role in India’s Elections

Indian ministers accuse Pakistan of terrorism, hinting at potential military action, leveraging ambiguity for political gain

by Kazi Anwarul Masud


Recently the Guardian reported on allegations that India’s government had orchestrated as many as 20 extrajudicial killings in Pakistan since 2020, targeting suspected terrorists. The allegations may give ammunition to critics abroad concerned about signals of India’s increasing willingness to resort to carrying out assassinations overseas, following developments in Canada and the United States last year. But at home, with national elections set to begin next week, the Guardian report will provide a boost to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It validates the ruling party’s boasts about taking a tough line on Pakistan, which play well politically in India.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to his supporters as he arrives to attend a rally in Guwahati, India, February 4, 2024. [ Photo: REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika/File Photo]


The report also validates long-standing claims by India, as well as the United States, that Pakistan sponsors or at least gives free rein to militant groups within its borders. In February 2019, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a Pakistan-based terrorist group, attacked a military convoy in Indian-administered Kashmir, killing 40 soldiers. India retaliated with airstrikes against what it said were terrorist bases in Pakistan. The crisis became a dominant theme during India’s elections that year. The BJP slammed Pakistan and accused the political opposition of helping Islamabad by demanding proof that the Indian strikes hit their stated targets.


The BJP handily won the 2019 vote, and India has since maintained a hard line against its neighbor and rival. Its decision to revoke the special autonomous status of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 was excoriated by Pakistan. Despite a 2021 border truce, Modi has largely refused to engage with Islamabad during his second term. And India has conditioned formal dialogue on Pakistan taking action against terrorists on its soil who target India. Unsurprisingly, BJP leaders have returned to the 2019 crisis on the campaign trail this year. This week, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath declared that Pakistan is “frightened” because “they know that the new India … storms into their country through airstrikes and kills terrorists.” Tellingly, India has said little about the Guardian report. Local media have quoted the External Affairs Ministry saying that allegations of extrajudicial killings are “false and malicious anti-India propaganda,” only repeating previous statements. But when questioned directly about the latest allegations, senior Indian officials have not denied them.

This week, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar spoke of Western media bias and blamed Pakistan for harboring terrorists. But Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said that if “terrorists run away to Pakistan, we will enter Pakistan to kill them.” This ambiguous response will likely reap political benefits. It encourages voters to respond to the allegations in one of two ways: to reject them as Western propaganda against the BJP or to accept them as proof of the ruling party’s muscular tactics against Pakistani threats. The Guardian report helps the BJP politically in other ways.

First, it counters criticism—often voiced by the opposition—that India’s strength abroad is compromised by its struggle to counter growing Chinese threats, from border incursions to naval power projection. Some Modi critics may also applaud India taking out terrorists in Pakistan; counterterrorism is a decidedly less divisive issue among the electorate than the BJP’s Hindu nationalism. Given his popularity and the weak and divided opposition, Modi is poised to win a third straight term this year and doesn’t seem to need another political gift. Still, anything helps, and the BJP can exploit the latest report to back up its claims of acting with strength abroad to advance its security interests and to showcase its tough stance against Pakistan. Her Power 2024 is here! On April 18th explore how economic empowerment for women is economic empowerment for the world.


Recently Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited Saudi Arabia, marking his first overseas trip since returning to power in March. Saudi Arabia is one of Pakistan’s closest allies, although the relationship hasn’t always been easy. In 2020, the two sides sparred over Riyadh’s position on the Kashmir dispute, and India’s growing ties with Saudi Arabia pose a challenge as well. But currently, ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are warm, and Sharif’s trip went well. The visit yielded a significant commitment to expedite a $5 billion investment package to Pakistan. Islamabad’s Special Investment Facilitation Council has prioritized securing funding from the Arab Gulf states, which will be a major focus of the Sharif era: Both he and his brother, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, have close personal ties to Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani economy has recently stabilized a bit. Although inflation remains high, it has come down in recent months, and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal last year gave the economy some breathing room. Additional IMF funds will likely be released in the coming weeks. But debt remains high, and Pakistan’s currency continues to perform poorly—making Saudi funding even more important. Indian court rejects opposition appeal.


 Delhi High Court rejected an appeal against the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi and an opposition leader with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which governs nearby Punjab as well. Kejriwal was detained last month on corruption charges, which the AAP and other opposition groups have rejected. The court said Kejriwal’s arrest “cannot be termed as illegal.” In a separate ruling last week, Kejriwal was ordered to be kept in jail until April 15, four days before India’s elections begin. The AAP, which has two other top leaders detained on similar charges, reacted angrily to Tuesday’s news and has vowed to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, India’s largest opposition party, the Indian National Congress, is dealing with its own travails, including heavy penalties for tax violations, which the party has rejected as a state attempt to weaken its finances before the elections. These moves, which critics say undermine India’s electoral playing field, are unlikely to hurt Modi at the polls.

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany