Pakistan Parliamentary Elections 2024: Main contenders and their India stance

Bilawal Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and Imran Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf are key players in Pakistan’s general elections 2024

Chiefs of the main parties contesting the elections. / Instagram/@imrankhan.pti/X/@NawazSharif/Instagram/@bbhuttozardari

The General elections are to be held in Pakistan on February 8 to form a new government.  The country’s former President, Arif Alvi, dissolved the National Assembly on August 8, 2023. A caretaker government has been in charge of the country ever since.

Elections had to be held within ninety days of the parliament's dissolution, according to national regulations; however, the Pakistani Election Commission (ECP) stated that it required more time to redraw constituencies following the 2017 census. Elections can only be held after the constituencies are redrawn according to the latest population.

The caretaker government is in charge of holding a fair and transparent government. Pakistan’s main opposition party, the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) raised complaints about the electoral environment leading up to the elections. The ECP and the caretaker government, led by Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar have come under the scanner for their ability, or lack of, to conduct fair elections.

The nation has been under the shadow of political and economic uncertainty for a while now. Here are the candidates running for office in Pakistan and their stances on India and other neighboring countries as the country's electorate heads to the polls after a two-month delay.

Nawaz Sharif

Among the key players, Nawaz Sharif holds the most experience. He has held the Prime Ministerial position three times during his political career, first from 1990 to 1993, then from 1997 to 1998, and from 2013 to 2017. He has been ousted from power every single time.

He is the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) Speaking of his stand on India, Sharif acknowledged India’s progress and global advancements while Pakistan continued to remain surrounded by ongoing challenges. He released his party’s manifesto on January 27 which says he would send a ‘Message of peace’ to other countries including India, as reported by Pakistani news outlet Dawn.

The manifesto says the “message of peace” to India would be extended on the condition that India reverse its actions taken in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. India abrogated Section 370 of the Indian Constitution which granted a special status to Jammu and Kashmir and changed the status of J&K from a state to a union territory. Pakistan firmly rejected the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Section 370 stating India lacked the authority to autonomously alter the status of occupied Kashmir.

Bilawal Bhutto

The former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan, and the former Prime Minister, Late Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is on the ballot in the 2024 Pakistan General Elections. Zardari has been the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) since 2007 after Benazir’s assassination.

“If you want a Pakistan where the poor and marginalized are empowered, our youth are encouraged and supported, and our laborers, farmers, and women are protected, then vote Teer on 8th February and join us in building a Pakistan for everyone,” he wrote in a post on X recently.

His stand on India is similar to Sharif's. Zardari called out Modi for creating “drama” in “Aazaad (independent) Kashmir,” on May 23, 2023. His reaction was toward India’s decision to host a tourism conference in the disputed region of Kashmir under its control. Hundreds of people in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir had protested against India’s decision to hold the tourism meeting.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf

Although its leader, Imran Khan, is unable to participate in this year's election because of his criminal convictions, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the main opposition party in Pakistan, is still fighting for victory. In 2022, four years after PTI won the general elections in Pakistan, Khan was removed from office due to a vote of no confidence.

In a 2023 interview with the Atlantic Council, Khan said there was an opening for peace with India despite the abrogation of Section 370 in 2019. He was in favor of “normalizing” trade relations between the two countries before he could host Narendra Modi in the country. However,  Khan closed the border for trade between India and Pakistan, in response to India upholding Kashmir’s special status.

“All I know is that there was supposed to be a quid pro quo. India was supposed to give some concession, give some sort of a roadmap to Kashmir, and I was going to then host Prime Minister Modi in Pakistan. But it never materialized,” he said.

Pakistan will vote on February 8, 2024. 44 political parties are vying for a share of the 266 seats up for grabs in the national assembly. An additional 70 seats are reserved for women and minorities.