‘Will Sharif be able to deliver on promise of better ties with India?’


New Delhi : India has welcomed Nawaz Sharif’s victory in Pakistan and his declaring that he would work for warmer ties with New Delhi, but experts caution that one should wait and see how he plans to deliver on his assurance, given his past role of playing “consort” to the Taliban.

Support TwoCircles

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief, who is poised to become Pakistan’s prime minister for the third time, Monday said he would invite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his oath-taking ceremony and reaffirmed he would forge friendly ties with India.

According to Rajiv Dogra, former Indian consul general in Karachi, Sharif is aware of the facts that have hurt India in the past – right from the 1993 Mumbai serial bombings, the 1999 Kargil War to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

“He knows what the faults are and he knows whose faults they are…that have hurt India. It is to be hoped he also knows how to fix the faults and order the same within his own establishment,” Dogra told IANS.

Questioning Sharif’s “sympathy” with the Taliban, which did not target PML-N cadres during the campaigning but staged murderous attacks on other parties like the PPP, the Awami National Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Dogra said it was a cause of worry for India.

“The question we have to ask ourselves is how much sympathy does he has for them? Getting sympathy from the Taliban is bad enough and having sympathy for the Taliban is even worse. It should be a point of worry for India, for then all his good words will not mean much,” said the former envoy.

“How can he actually deliver on his words if he has friends like the Taliban to consort with? Promises are one thing; whether he has the intent and practical ability to deliver on those assurances would have to be seen,” Dogra added.

Former diplomat Rajiv Bhatia said the elections in Pakistan, the first democratic transition of power in the country’s 66-year history, is a “highly positive development for Pakistan and shows the strength and resilience of its democracy. It is a positive development for the region too.”

Bhatia, who now heads the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), said Sharif has had a good history of relationships with India. But, there was need for “some caution before we start drawing conclusions as the Pakistan and South Asia of 1999 and of now are quite different”.

He said Sharif should first be allowed to settle down, form his government, announce his policies and get support from parliament “and then we will see how he plans to approach India. To imagine he will immediately start working on the India dossier would be a little unrealistic,” Bhatia told IANS, adding that given Sharif’s approach and the past record “we should remain optimistic of the relationship”.

A.N. Ram, former secretary in external affairs ministry, said the atmospherics for bilateral relations were good after Sharif’s re-ascendancy, but it was early to comment on the overall shape of bilateral ties.

He said Pakistan’s civilian leaders in the past have not been able to fully translate into reality their intentions of improving relations with India.

“He (Sharif) is a sober gentleman, has a wonderful track record (of fostering bilateral relations). (But we should) test him a little more…We should take a more measured position. The proof of the pudding lies in the eating,” Ram told IANS.

He said the parameters of the India relationship were sometimes not drawn by the civilian government but by the Pakistan military.

“If there is a change of heart in the military, there is no limit we cannot reach in bilateral relations,” Ram said.

Senior journalist S. Nihal Singh,. who has covered South Asia extensively, said Sharif had business instincts and will push for improved trade ties with India. He however said Sharif’s immediate priorities will be domestic.

“It is to be seen how he defines his relationship with the Pakistani Taliban. He also has to redefine the relationship with the army, which is a major factor in Pakistan,” Nihal Singh told IANS.

He said Sharif is likely to set the ball rolling in relations with India by boosting trade ties.

“There could be visits of trade delegations (in the coming months),” he said.

He said though there was ambiguity about Sharif’s role during the 1999 Kargil misadventure, he had taken steps to boost bilateral ties.