Indian views of Nawaz Sharif’s election

Indian views on Nawaz Sharif’s election – ranging from the wary to the enthusiastic.

Shyam Saran (former foreign secretary):

One, Kashmir will remain the “core issue” for Pakistan […] Pakistani army’s well-known opposition to him. It would also reassure his constituency of right-wing and religious elements, including jihadi groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tauiba [sic].  Two, given PML-N’s close association with jihadi and fundamentalist groups, it is unlikely that serious curbs would be put on them […] Thus, there is unlikely to be a clear break from the long-standing policy of using cross-border terrorism as an instrument of State policy — although in seeking to improve relations with India, they may be put under more strict constraint […] Three, Sharif has been reticent about his party’s views on the Afghan Taliban or on how he sees Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan […] India has had no place in Pakistan’s vision of a future Afghanistan and this is unlikely to change […] Hence the best policy to adopt is to seek improved relations in small doses, whose cumulative impact over a period may still be substantive. We should learn from the experience of Kargil and other similar instances. Grand gestures on either side or an attempt to depart significantly from the established narrative are usually followed by a deliberate and often violent effort to reverse any perceived improvement in relations.

C. Raja Mohan:

Sharif is also aware that Singh’s clock is running down, and that the UPA government headed by him has little political steam left. There is a danger then that the subcontinent’s traditional curse — the misalignment of the political cycles in India and Pakistan — might once again compel Delhi to lose yet another moment of opportunity with Islamabad […] As Delhi debates the government’s options towards Sharif within the UPA’s self-imposed constraints, there is one way out — through the Punjab. It could consider, for example, sending an Indian political delegation headed by Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to attend Sharif’s swearing-in next week […] When Vajpayee travelled to Lahore in February 1999, defying the hawks in his party, he had the wisdom to ask Parkash Singh Badal, the then CM of Punjab, to join his delegation

The elections in Pakistan provide a new political basis for re-imagining India-Pakistan relations. Nawaz Sharif’s victory is rooted in a comprehensive political sweep in Punjab — Pakistan’s largest province. On this side of the Radcliffe Line, there is a strong government, whose leaders are deeply committed to normalisation of relations between the two Punjabs, and between Delhi and Islamabad. The stars in Punjab are in rare alignment for a big political push on the people’s agenda in Indo-Pak relations. The only missing element is a bit of political courage in the Congress party

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan (former Indian Ambassador to the UN):

On the other hand, going by the election manifestos of major political parties in Pakistan in the run-up to the May 11 elections, there seems to be a growing consensus among politicians for détente with India. Their manifestos not only did not contain anti-India rhetoric; they also indicated a willingness to promote peace with India. The party of incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif even went to the extent of declaring that it will open the transit route for trade between India, Afghanistan and beyond through Pakistan. Since winning the election convincingly, he has reiterated his desire to work for better relations with India, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warmly reciprocated. Imran Khan’s party also spoke of progressive detente with India. This trend needs to be noted and welcomed in India. It suggests that the political mainstream might be ready to stand up to the military in case the latter came in the way of normalising relations with India. Whether it is able to do so will remain to be seen, but at least it has made public its intention to do so. Mr. Sharif has declared that he will be the ‘boss’ and that civilian supremacy will be asserted. If that happens, the possibility of normal relations between the two countries can certainly be entertained. Indians have a tendency to lurch from euphoria to hostility in reacting to developments in neighbouring countries. We need to wait and watch.

Vivek Katju (former Indian diplomat):

Lastly, how should India deal with Sharif? It should welcome a forward movement on trade, treatment of prisoners, people-to-people contacts and cooperation in areas such as agriculture and the environment. However, we should be conscious that the use of terror is a part of Pakistan’s security doctrine against India and Sharif cannot change that. His views on Kashmir and other issues have also not been flexible. Statecraft requires cold assessment, not exuberant emotion. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and external affairs minister Salman Khurshid would do well to watch Sharif’s swearing-in on television in their offices rather than in person in Aiwan-e-Sadr in Islamabad.

Shekhar Gupta:

So the people of Pakistan have nuanced their view of their army and the Lashkars. But are we in India willing to change ours? Unfortunately, over the years (post-Sharm el-Sheikh, let’s say), our view of Pakistan has become re-militarised as its own society’s has become de-militarised. Anybody in Pakistan is willing to say to you now that the horrible beheading of the Indian soldier was carried out by the military establishment only to block the Zardari government giving India the MFN status. And we walked straight into the trap, calling off sporting exchanges, the prime minister himself saying it can’t be business as usual, the leader of the opposition demanding 10 heads for one. While the same Pakistan has defied the army, the Lashkars, and its hatred of America and its drones, to vote for a man whose manifesto promises trade and peace with India, even transit to Afghanistan and Central Asia […] Sad truth is, we Indians still seem unwilling to appreciate and respond to this dramatic transformation.


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