Sharif’s India moment

Sharif’s India moment

Will Nawaz probe Kargil and Mumbai fiascos? The recent general election in Pakistan, the first democratic transition of power in that country, has received unprecedented coverage in the Indian print and electronic media.

Though in the run-up to the poll and on polling day itself, there was considerable violence, the high 60 per cent voter turnout was impressive and a firm rejection of the Taleban call to boycott the election. Leading Indian newspapers and TV channels had sent reporters, cameramen and photographers to cover the event, indicating the enormous interest it has generated in India.

The victory of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) has been widely welcomed by the Indians and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already extended an invitation to him to visit India. On his part, Sharif has been giving extensive interviews to the Indian media, reassuring New Delhi that his third stint in power will herald a new era in Indo-Pakistan ties.

The two nuclear-armed powers have fought three wars since their Independence, the last one leading to the formation of Bangladesh (for which ultra nationalist Pakistanis, particularly in the army have never forgiven India, constantly seeking revenge). Indeed, the best chance for peace between the two countries came when Sharif was at the helm in 1999.

That was the year the then Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, undertook a historic bus-trip to Lahore. However, just three months later a conflict broke out in the Kargil sector of Ladakh in the high Himalayas separating the two nations. Pakistan troops furtively occupied Indian positions that had been vacated with the onset of winter. It took several weeks of bitter fighting and hundreds of casualties on both sides for the Indian troops to recapture their posts. Indo-Pakistan relations went into deep freeze.

The Indian government viewed Kargil as a betrayal on the part of Sharif, though he later claimed that he had been ignorant of the Pakistan Army’s plans, the army chief then being General Pervez Musharraf, the very man who would later topple Sharif in a coup and send him into eight years of exile to Saudi Arabia.

Clearly, there has been no love lost between the two men and one of Sharif’s first comments after his recent electoral victory was that the army would be firmly under civilian control. Be that as it may, the Pakistan Army, which has called the shots as far as foreign policy and strategic moves are concerned, is a major worry for India. Camps for training Punjab and Kashmiri militants have been set up in the past on Pakistani soil and the militants infiltrated over the border.

Then, there is the November 26, 2008, terrorist attack on Mumbai, the worst ever on India. Thanks partly to the testimony of George Headley, who is serving a life sentence in the USA, and what Kasab, the captured (and later hanged) Pakistani terrorist, revealed, an accusing finger has been pointed at the shadowy Pakistan spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and rogue elements in the army. Sharif has already reassured New Delhi that he intends to set up a high-level commission to inquire into both Kargil and the Mumbai terror attack. The army establishment, not used to being questioned in any way, is probably waiting, perhaps a little nervously, for Sharif’s next move.

The rout of President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has come as no surprise, considering its five years of misgovernance, corruption, unemployment and high inflation. These are the areas that Sharif emphasised during his election campaign and which he aims to rectify. Being a very wealthy and successful businessman, Sharif has a good idea of what his country needs for economic revival. It is bound to include more trade and closer economic ties with India. The seemingly intractable Kashmir issue notwithstanding, Sharif’s victory sends out good and welcome signals to India. The high Pakistan voter turnout was a thumbs-down to the Taleban.

However, in the past, there have also been times when lasting peace and close cooperation between India and Pakistan seemed imminent. The coming to power of Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi, both of them young, modern looking and idealistic, was one of them. They disappointed the hopes of millions of Indians and Pakistanis. History beckons Nawaz Sharif. He should not let it down. – KhaleejNews