Is Pakistan out of woods?

By K.N. Pandita

Elections to Pakistan National Assembly have come to an end.  PML (N) emerges as the single largest part bagging 118 seats out of a total of 272.  Its closest rival the outgoing PPP has bagged 35 seats while the runner up Tehreek-i-Insaf of cricketer turned politician Imran Khan has captured 34 seats, one short of PPP’s count. Strangely Jamaat-e-Islami has won just 4 seats only.

No party has absolute majority which is 172 votes. Mian Nawaz Sharif of PML (N) will be invited to form the government. But obviously, it has to be a coalition government. PML (N) will require 54 votes to make the coalition form absolute majority. Probable parties to form the coalition with the PML (N) would be PTI (34 seats), JUI (12 seats). But still it will need 8 votes to make absolute majority. PPP and MQM are unlikely to join the coalition.  

Important thing to be noted is that PML (N) has not been able to make dent in Sind and Baluchistan. This means that friction on regional basis will dog the new coalition government unless Nawaz Sharif is able to assuage the hurt feelings of Baluch.

The crucial question for the Nawaz Sharif government will be the jurisprudence of relationship with the Army. In his election rallies he has promised to cut the army to size. Will the hawks allow it? If yes, on what conditions? One thing is certain. Prosecution against Pervez Musharraf will continue vigorously. He cannot expect kid-glove treatment either by the civilian government or the judiciary. Charges against him are of very serious nature. Pakistan has not hesitated to execute its prime minister in the past.

But Pakistan army will be the first institution under new civilian regime to re-visits its policy and approach to national issues like economy, anti corruption drive, improvement of power supply, employment and above all mending fences with her neighbours.

It is to be reminded that Mian Nawaz once did speak about bringing ISI under civilian control. This is also an important issue if he means to clip the wings of the army.

In his foreign policy, the priority issue is of Afghanistan and the impending withdrawal of US-NATO forces. Washington would certainly try to woo him for support in Afghanistan in post-withdrawal scenario. But Nawaz Sharif still recollects how he was asked to step down in post-Kargil developments and for which the then President Clinton had a role. Keeping this in mind, Nawaz Sharif will tread the Pakistan-American policy line with utmost caution.

The area of importance in his foreign policy is India. In a recent interview Nawaz Sharif had made very statesmanlike statement to the interviewer. He had said that the two countries have a long shared past and it cannot be broken down so easily. The sticking issue of Kashmir will also be revived but in different tone and tenor. During his previous stint as Prime Minister, he had established close rapport with Atal Bihari Vajpayee through their respective interlocutors. It was on the basis of that rapport and understanding that Vajpayee had travelled to Pakistan and declared in a public rally that India has recognized Pakistan’s independent and sovereign identity.

However the hawks at the GHQ were apprehensive that a final solution of Kashmir dispute would immensely downgrade the importance and role of the Army in dealing with India. This prompted the then General Musharraf to launch Kargil expedition which swelled into full fledged war and the two sides had come almost to the brink of the abyss. Musharraf had kept Mian Nawaz totally unaware of what he had planned in Kargil.

Nawaz Sharif has said in his election campaigns that if returned to power he would set up an enquiry commission into the Kargil episode so that the people of Pakistan are able to know the facts of that crisis.

India could take these as friendly gestures. One can expect that the newly elected government in Islamabad would deal with India in a true statesmanlike manner and be pragmatic in constructing new relationship. Kashmir issue is there and already some understanding on the dimensions of the issue has been discussed by the handlers of Track II diplomacy on both sides. No miracles can be expected but at least the terrorist camps still existing on the other side of the LoC shall have to be dismantled if confidence is to be restored and the path is cleared for meaningful dialogue. In the same way infiltration from across the border has to be stopped and normalcy restored. No progress in bilateral talks can happen as long as terrorist camps continue to be in place and infiltration bids are not halted.

The most difficult job before the PML (N) government will be of handling the terrorist and religious extremist organizations within Pakistan. A corollary of this issue is the continued attacks of the NATO forces in Waziristan. This no doubt is a complex issue with many ramifications. But PML (N) has the capacity to bring dissidents to the negotiating table. Evidently it has to be a trilateral dialogue, Pakistan, TTP and the US. In case JUI also agrees to become the coalition partner in Nawaz government, chances of conducting negotiations with the TTP brighten. Imran Khan will be a key player in that case as he has strong following in the entire NWFP.

A breakthrough in negotiations will also entitle Islamabad for financial support from the US and other sources to feed the economy of Pakistan. Some drastic financial, economic and other decisions will have to be taken to pull the country out of economic crunch. If anti-corruption drive becomes effective, enormous funds will be released for investment in industrial enterprises.

New Delhi must adopt positive attitude towards the new regime that will be formed in Islamabad in a day or two. All positive signals need to be responded adequately and space created for serious dialogue on all irritating issues.

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