A Sharif At The Helm In Pakistan


(MENAFN- Kashmir Observer)
File photo of Shehbaz Sharif

As the PML-N and the PPP coalition is set to form a new government in Pakistan, its policies are likely to be a reprise of their preceding stint in power. The primary focus is likely to be the country's deteriorating economic situation which could further be aggravated in the near future. The coalition may also continue to be dogged by the ongoing political turmoil in the country – more so, after the PTI, the incarcerated Imran Khan's party, was denied power despite winning the largest number of seats in an otherwise flagrantly rigged election. But on this side of the border, the interest will mainly be centered on how the new dispensation in Islamabad will deal with India and vice versa.

So, what does Shehbaz Sharif as Pakistan prime minister mean for India? More so, when this time round, Asif Ali Zardari
will be the Pakistan president. On the face of it, there isn't room for any surprise here. In his last stint, Sharif ran a largely bland government devoid of any big domestic or foreign policy decisions. Most of its time was spent pushing back against surging mass protests led by Imran Khan, a challenge which lingers.
But unlike the last time when the alliance had just sixteen months before the elections, this time it has a full term – that is, if it doesn't meet the fate of the Khan's government and that of many others preceding it.
This would incline the government to think more long-term
with a hopefully achievable end in view. And relations with India are likely to be one of the priority areas for the new government. And if media reports are to be believed, Pakistan Army is keen to improve ties with India, a desire that is expected to reflect in the policies of Sharif-Zardari combo. But the Indo-Pak relationship is too fiendishly complex to be easily amenable to such a desire or even an effort.

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As is the case with India-Pakistan ties, nothing can be said with certainty until things actually turn around. This is because the conditions for engagement between the neighbours remain irreconcilable. Pakistan wants to place Kashmir at the front and centre of its dialogue with New Delhi which is unacceptable to India. Pakistan also wants India to restore Article 370 that granted J&K its semi-autonomous status within India which again India sees as irreversible.
More so, after the Supreme Court endorsed the Modi government's move, making the constitutional provision's abrogation a fait accompli. The unmistakable signal to Pakistan is to temper its expectation about the extent to which India can accommodate it on Kashmir. In fact, New Delhi now wants Kashmir off the table in any future discussion with Islamabad. Only issue about Kashmir that is pending resolution, according to India, is the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir which New Delhi wants to be returned and even threatens to take it back through a military operation.

As for talks with Islamabad, India, as always, wants terrorism to be the central issue and wants Pakistan to stop supporting militancy in Kashmir. Pakistan doesn't accept it backs terrorism.

But it was with these irreconcilable positions intact that the two countries in February 2020 agreed to reinstate their 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control and made positive noises signaling a return to dialogue. But they failed to build on the goodwill as any such effort was undone by New Delhi's refusal to concede on Kashmir.
There have been no further measures, nor does it look likely there will be in the near future. New Delhi seems in no hurry to do this. If anything, this only goes on to show that India feels little need to relent and wants Pakistan to reconcile with the new status quo. But Pakistan seems unlikely to do so. More so, under a government that lacks legitimacy in the eyes of a large majority of its people following an election where Khan's PTI was the obvious choice of an overwhelming majority of the voters.

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Going forward, it looks unlikely that India and Pakistan could go back to any engagement in the near future. Immediately, however, any further progress in the relations will be subject to the outcome of the general election in India in May-June. It is believed that the re-election of PM Modi, as looks likely, and Shehbaz Sharif as Pakistan prime minister would be more conducive to
resumption of dialogue. They could pick up where PM Modi and former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif – brother of Shehbaz Sharif – left off in 2017 when the latter was forced out of power. However, the regional situation has since transformed. And with the abrogation of Article 370, the complexion of the Kashmir issue too has altered. So, for the two countries to re-engage, they would need to evolve new terms of engagement. And it is easier said than done. This would call for a diplomatic leap of faith, more so, on the part of Pakistan.

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