How easy is Nawaz Sharif’s task?

By K.N. Pandita

Nawaz Sharif’s task is not easy. His party’s numerical strength facilitates him but does not mandate him to force solution of the issues of long or short standing.

Power scarcity, economic recession, TTP menace, civilian-army strained relations, Afghan crisis, Indo-Pak tensions, ethno-sectarian crimes and Pak-American relations all are on his priority list. In short, he has to fight at economic, domestic and foreign fronts.

Astute diplomacy and political finesse are the instruments to tackle these issues. Pakistan has no dearth of eminent persons who know how to run civil administration. Nawaz Sharif will have a galaxy of advisers and bureaucrats around him to shape and support his policy and decisions.  

In Pakistan, army is a factor to be reckoned with. But internal and external state of affairs of the country today have become so intricate as to leave little scope for the army to walk the old turf. Moreover the Army enjoys much reduced support and empathy from the Americans today.

Keeping in mind how army played its role during the election on very low key, there are strong indications that a compromise formula may be hammered out which takes away as little as possible from the army but gives as much as possible to the civilian government. The rhetoric of setting up a commission of inquiry into Kargil clash or the role of ISI in 26/11 will evaporate in thin air once the stakeholders sit down to discuss issues with all seriousness.

Kashmir has been the trump card with Pak Army. But with reasonable containment of the army impacting Indo-Pak narrative, we can expect a change in a way to reduce the value of the trump card. Pressure is mounting on the army and its intelligence agency to revisit proxy war syndrome. Salahud-Din, the Chief of Jihad Council sitting in Muzaffarabad has a reason to cry foul.

Much of Mian Nawaz’s maneuverability will be dictated by the contours of relations he is able to forge with the TTP.  This is also linked to his policy towards the Afghan Taliban. Will he be able to draw mileage from the support he had given to the Afghan Taliban way back in 1996 by joining Saudi Arabia in formally according his government’s recognition of Taliban regime in Kabul? This could brighten chances for tripartite negotiations leading to a compromise formula.

Washington is seriously weighing the possible impact of Nawaz Sharif’s role in bringing about some semblance of peace and normalcy in Afghanistan. He enjoys much influence with the Saudi monarchy. In any broad based negotiations with Afghan Taliban, the role of Saudi monarchy will be crucial.

As these parleys progress, of course very little in open and mostly behind the curtain, the chances for Nawaz Sharif to bring in the issue of redemption of Pakistan’s critical economic situation brighten fairly well.

Progress in multilateral talks should lead to gradual reduction of anti-US animus among religious extremist groups in Pakistan and their sympathizers. Even Tahreek-i-Insaf Party of Imran Khan, will also begin to lose the steam that fuelled its anti-American engine during the election campaign.

How is Mian Sahib going to build Indo-Pak détente is of great interest to political observers in the sub-continent? There is seldom change of heart with weather-beaten politicians. But there are many among them who are sharp enough to understand the change in political scenario. Astute statesmanship also means responding to the new situation and becoming more pragmatic in the response.

Suspicions and mistrust are deep-seated in their bilateral relations. The deck cannot be cleared in one go. But conditions have to be created that would help in clearing it. Pessimists on both sides will make Kashmir the “core issue” and reduce trade and commerce as something subservient to it. Nawaz Sharif announced that he would purchase electricity from India to bridge over the current acute shortage. Obviously, India must have shown her willingness to extend the hand of friendship.

Much harm has been done to both countries by spreading hatred and anger against each other. Arming the jihadis and infiltrating them into Indian side has done nothing good to the perpetrators of terror. They have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.

If expansion of trade and commerce means putting Kashmir issue in cold store for a decade or more, the experiment is worth making. Nothing will be lost but some new experience will certainly be gained.

If Nawaz Sharif thinks that the thread of talks on Kashmir should be taken up where it was left after his exit from power, this, too, has to be experimented. UPA II Government should have no hesitation in meeting Pakistan Prime Minister half way.

New Delhi needs to be reminded that in the long course of flawed Indo-Pak relations, it has always found itself at crossroads in conducting bilateral talks including Kashmir issue with military regimes. India has always favoured talking to elected governments in Islamabad. The May 11 elections to National Assembly in Pakistan have been acknowledged as fair and impartial barring a stray case here or there. As such, Mian Sahib represents the true voice of the people of Pakistan. He carries a heavy burden of responsibilities on his shoulders. New Delhi should not miss the bus of talking to the elected leadership of Pakistan.

We know that New Delhi was seriously interested in talking to Pakistan when there was an elected government in Islamabad. Let us recall Rajiv-Benazir talks. If the ISI scuttled those talks, Pakistan has been the bigger loser. If this experience is repeated again in Nawaz Sharif’s government, Pakistan and her vast population will be the bigger losers.

Lastly a formidable task before Nawaz Sharif is of restoring confidence among various ethnic and sectarian groups of people in that country. He will have to uproot sectarian violence lock, stock and barrel. This will be the litmus test of his good, impartial and just governance. The lawless elements have to be reined in and life and property have to be made secure.

He has to surmount many difficulties, he has to depict extraordinary courage, diplomatic skill and understanding and he has to persuade and convince a population that unfortunately has been oriented along extremist ideologies by myopic and indiscreet leadership in the past.

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