Can Sharif turn a new leaf?
Speculations are rife across the world about which course of destiny the new civilian regime in Pakistan is likely to take in view of several challenges and options before it.
Some say that a wind of change is blowing in Pakistan where two successive general elections voted two different civilian governments to power. Voter turnout in May 2013 elections recorded 55.02%, a much higher percentage than elections since 1980s where it averaged around 40% In the last 2008 elections, voter turnout was 44.23%.
With Nawaz Sharif bouncing back to power for the third time, Frederic Grare, Director and Senior Associate of South Asia Program in Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, feels that the Pakistani prime minister has learnt lessons from his past mistakes which he is unlikely to commit again.
However, much would depend upon the civilian-military chemistry in Pakistan in the days to come. Sharif faces the challenge of selecting a new Army chief when General Kayani retires later this year.
Sharif also has another crucial issue to resolve for his country. It is the power crisis. India has played its diplomatic card rightly in time and offered to export power Pakistan. Indian prime minister’s Special Envoy SK Lambah met Sharif nine days before his swearing as Pakistan’s Prime Minister for the third time and offered all necessary help provided the new leadership in the neighouring country is prepared to open a new chapter in the bilateral relationship.
According to sources, India has sought to allay Pakistan’s apprehensions about its policy in Afghanistan. New Delhi has made it clear that its policy is for development of Afghanistan and its stability and economic integration with the rest of South Asia. India has, therefore, rightly pressed for to-and-fro direct trade route to Afghanistan via Pakistan.
With a view to resolve power crisis in Pakistan, Lambah is understood to have suggested to Sharif an early meeting of the commerce secretaries of both sides to work out the modalities for export of power from India. Incidentally, much before the recent elections in Pakistan, two Indian teams visited Lahore and offered to sell electricity and LNG to Pakistan. The last India-Pakistan talks on this issue were held in August 2012.
India has exploited this window of opportunity rightly in time. If the new leadership in Pakistan opens this new chapter on India-Pakistan cooperation on Afghanistan much of the problems in South Asia will stand resolved and also lead to stability in Afghanistan. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAPI) gas pipeline will not remain as a distant dream. Also the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline may see the light of the day soon.
According to Frederic Grare, there is a perceptible change in the mindset of bureaucracy in Pakistan. They are now talking about tackling terrorist bases in Afghanistan. Grare feels that Pakistan desperately needs a stable Afghanistan. Pakistan has its own problem with its Pushtun population in its northwestern region bordering Afghanistan. Sharif should make a conscious effort in engaging in talks with the insurgent group in the region, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Similarly President Karzai should talk to the Talibans in Afghanistan. The issue of Talibans can be resolved on both sides. Pakistan should know that Taliban issue should be resolved as early as possible or else it may lead to the resurrection the Pushtun issue which may damage its territorial integrity in future.
The May 2013 elections has marginalised the radical elements in Pakistan and Sharif has a clear majority in the National Assembly and his party is in a majority in the populous Punjab province, though at other provincial level regional satraps hold their fortresses, mainly in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
According to Grare, China has always taken Pakistan for granted and missed no chance in playing against India. It did not help its “all weather friend” in trouble times.The US, he says, is now willing to compromise on a number of issues with Pakistan and Pakistan would not be pressing much. The contentious issue of drone attacks can be resolved, if Pakistan expresses its willingness to control the Talibans in its region. With US and China being the main players, India should chart its course independently with Pakistan in the interest of peace and stability in South Asia.
Before elections, Sharif had talked of bettering relationships with India. In the midst of talks of two neighbours coming closer, one inevitable question is being asked – Why did not India send a ministerial representative to attend Sharif’s swearing-in ceremony when Sharif had reportedly invited Manmohan Singh himself to attend?
If Sharif is sincere in up-scaling relationship with India he needs to develop a good chemistry between the civilian regime and the military and see that a Kargil-like incident does not occur in future. IPA