Nawaz Sharif set to take over third time in Pakistan
Any haste dealing with Pakistan can again prove costly. Nawaz Sharif should be waited till he takes some concrete steps on the ground. It has to be seen whether he reins in the radicals and ISI or continues to follow their anti-India agenda.
Even before Nawaz Sharif could formally take over as Pakistan Prime Minister, the talks of peace and friendship between India and Pakistan received mysterious momentum. Forgetting all the wounds that Pakistan has been inflicting to India since decades, India accepted the peace offer and quickly invited Nawaz Sharif to India even before his formal swearing in was over. The haste displayed on the part of India created many questions in the minds of defence and foreign policy experts in New Delhi.
The experts say in the haste India forgot the wounds of Kargil, continuous jehad in Kashmir and other parts of the country, Mumbai terror attack, 1993 Mumbai blasts, which had occurred during the regime of Sharif itself, brutal beheading of our soldiers and above all the cruel killing of Indian prisoners like Sarabjit Singh and Chamel Singh recently. While accepting the peace offer, the way India ignored all these wounds, only made our position weak in the subcontinent. The defence and foreign policy experts in India are of the clear opinion that the basic stand that India should adopt at this moment is that “talks and terrorism cannot go together”. This should be told to the new regime of Pakistan in clear words.
It is to be noted that Nawaz Sharif returned into power third time on May 13 when his PML-N won 123 of 272 Parliamentary seats. However, this number is short of the majority mark. Sharif is in the process of forming a government with the support of some independents and smaller parties. A total of 137 directly elected seats are needed for a simple majority in Pakistan’s National Assembly. There are 26 independents who won this time. The PML-N’s two closest rivals, the Pakistan People’s Party of Zardari and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf lagged far behind with only 32 and 27 seats, respectively. Despite threats to the voters from some radicals, the elections to the National Assembly took place on May 11 and an encouraging turnout was reported. Sharif has declared to take over power on May 28, the day when he had ordered nuclear tests in 1998 as Prime Minister.
As the news of Nawaz Sharif heading in poll outcome spread, the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh took no time to congratulate him over telephone and even extended him an invitation to visit India. Earlier, Sharif had expressed willingness to start the peace talk that was interrupted in 1999 by the then Army Chief Pervez Musharraf, who ousted Sharif’s Government in a military coup. Interestingly, in this peace offer too Sharif did not forget mentioning Kashmir.
The foreign policy experts feel that India should wait for steps that Pakistan takes to restore peace between both the countries. They, however, do not reject the peace intention of Nawaz Sharif, they want India should think before reacting. Former Indian diplomat in Pakistan Shri G Parthasarthy and expert on Pakistan Affairs Shri Sushant Sareen have the similar opinion. The experts also say that it is ridiculous to note that Pakistan is cruelly killing Indian soldiers and the Government of India is serving ‘biryani’ to the Pakistani leaders. This was in apparent reference to the lunch hosted by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde for Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik a few days after the beheading of Indian soldier Hemraj by Pakistani troops in January.
“The bonhomie is all very well but what about the justice to the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack and the Indian prisoners like Sarabjit Singh,” asked BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi. Sarabjit Singh had died on May 2 after brutal attack on him by his fellow inmates in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat Jail on April 25.
BJP chief Shri Rajnath Singh, however, welcomed the peace offer as a ‘positive sign’ but he hoped that Nawaz Sharif’s overtures are not hijacked by ‘the vested interests’ in Pakistan. “Since Sharif has publicly stated that he would pick up the pieces of 1999 peace process, we hope that the agenda for peace and stability in the region is not hijacked by the vested interests operating from Pakistan,” the BJP said in a statement released in New Delhi. Hoping that Sharif will be able to ‘walk the talk’, Shri Rajnath Singh further said, “Keeping in view our past experiences with Pakistan, BJP views Sharif’s statement with cautious optimism.”
Traditionally, India has been a peace loving nation and it always supported peace and prosperity in its neighbourhood too. But India’s peace has always been disturbed by none other than some of its neighbours only. Talibanisation, barbaric attacks on Hindus and other minorities, ill-treatment to Indian prisoners, mushrooming growth of the support camps for terrorists like LeT and HM, non- cooperation on 26/11 probe, handing over dreaded terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim are some of the major issue that India has failed to resolve with Pakistan till now. This is also a fact that after the Sarabjit episode, the Indian people’s distrust on Islamabad reached a new low. There are daily demonstrations in New Delhi and other parts of the country against the barbaric Talibani attacks on Hindus who are forced to leave Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif also has an uphill task to see that Pakistan gets a civil face that respects human rights and focuses on development rather than hostilities.
This is a fact that the radical Islamic groups and the ISI lobbies have been rejected by the voters of Pakistan, as they came out for casting their votes despite repeated threats. But these elements are still strong in Pakistan. Now it has to be seen whether Nawaz Sharif leads the anti-India lobby or ride on the sentiments of the general public. Another important question is how Sharif reacts on the anti India policies, which have been promoting terrorism in India, generating hate among people, pushing terrorists in Kashmir, trafficking drugs or weapons, raising slogans like hanskar liya Pakistan, ladkar lenge Hindustan, Kashmir to bahana hai, Lal Quila hathiyana hai. The answer of all these questions will come with the passage of time and at this moment it is wrong to trust Sharif keeping in view their previous record.
At home, the biggest challenge before Nawaz Sharif is to show in practice that the minorities, especially the Hindus in Pakistan, are treated with respect and their human rights are protected. Apart from it, they have also to show that the incidents like cruel beheadings of Indian soldiers are not repeated and the Indian prisoners are treated with human dignity. Those Indian prisoners who have completed their jail terms should be released forthwith.
Instead of acting in haste, India should wait for the steps that the new regime of Pakistan takes in coming days and if it is really sincere to strengthen ties with India that should be reciprocated. Nawaz Sharif has to show the friendship in his deeds. Pakistan has to prove itself as good neighbour, which it has failed to prove in the last 65 years. It is an acid test for Sharif. After all how India can see more dead bodies of its innocent people. India should act with a spine and has to tell Pakistan with firm determination that Pakistan has to change its hostile attitude.
One more important question about Nawaz Sharif is that he has been resoundingly silent on terrorism. This isn’t surprising considering his own Punjab province is a hotbed of terrorist activity in the south. Part of the problem is that the PML-N-led government in Punjab has not taken aggressive legal or police action against terror groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Sipah-e-Sahaba, some of whom in recent months have been implicated for their involvement in major attacks outside Punjab. The lack of action against these groups seems to have protected the PML-N against attacks during the election campaign. There have also been fewer attacks within Punjab. Sharif cannot pursue this informal arrangement at a national level. He will also have to get behind the military’s campaign against the Pakistani Taliban but has to be cautious in how forward he leans.
India must ensure release of Indian prisoners and human rights Hindus
—Avinash Rai Khanna, MP
While dealing with the new regime of Pakistan India must ensure that the human rights of the Hindus living there are protected seriously and the incidents of their conversion, kidnapping, forcible marriage and killings of minorities are stopped.
There are a large number of Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails. The tragedy with some of them is that their identity, numbers and other particulars are not known to the Government of India. There are different kinds of prisoners. They are fishermen, some convicts, prisoners of war (for whom the government is not taking any interest). There are so many prisoners whose term of sentence has completed, but Indian Government is unable to secure their release.
In the Pakistani jails, there are about 700 to 800 prisoners to which Pakistan does not agree. Pakistan only admits that there are only 270 prisoners, out of which there are 215 fishermen and 55 others. So, the question, which remains unanswered, is what about the other prisoners? The modus operandi of the Pakistani authorities is that at the time of arrest of an Indian, their names, identities, etc are changed to make the verification of the arrested person difficult. In prisons there, the inmates have been compelled to convert to Islam. Some of the prisoners even became mad following cruel treatment meted out to them by the jail authorities.
Our Embassies in Pakistan also have not been so much active to get these prisoners released. Even they are not getting Consulate access. The most shameful example given by Pakistani jail authorities in violating human rights is the murder of Chamel Singh and Sarabjit Singh in jail. Even the parts of their bodies were removed. On the other hand Indian Government has spent crores of rupees on Pakistani terrorists like Kasab’s food, service and security. Now the question arises, why it is happing with Indians only? The simple answer is that the Indian Government is unable to put international pressure on Pakistan Government. After the murder of Chamel Singh and Sarabjit Singh, no foreign country condemned this incidence, which shows how soft we are.
The fact is that the minorities are not safe in Pakistan. It is a matter of serious concern with all of us and for those who are crying for human rights violation for some specific sections of the society. The only solution is that first of all the Government of India should recognise the value of Indians and render all kind of help to all such people. A strong action is expected from the Government to get the Indian prisoner released at least to those who have completed their sentence. Perhaps, the incident of Chamel Singh and Sarabjit Singh is a warning to the Government of India. This type of incidents should not be repeated in future at all. The Government should show its commitment for the Indian prisoners in Pakistani Jails.
Sharif has to show a change in his ground policies
“It is easy for anybody to say what Nawaz Sharif has said while extending a peace offer. But his action has to be seen on the ground. The question is does he start curbing the jehadi operations, does he stop their propaganda machinery and does he start cracking down some of their networks. If he does something concrete on these fronts, only then his statement of not repeating any army adventures and 26/11 types strikes against India makes any sense,” says Shri Sushant Sareen, senior fellow with Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) and an expert on Pakistan-Afghanistan, security issues and foreign relations.
On the question that Sharif’s party PML-N received the support of some radicals during the elections Shri Sareen said, “I feel those radical elements supported some other parties also. All parties had local level alliances with the radicals. Even the People’s Party got such support. All the parties had support from the jehadis and extremist groups. Nawaz Sharif also received some of the support. That is one part of it. The second part is that Sharif is also a politician. Politicians are famous for picking people for support and deserting them away when their objectives are over. We see it every day in our own country also. They assure something but do something else. This is a fact that Nawaz Sharif has been making such statements even before the elections. He seems to be keen on having good relations with India. But the crucial point is does the policy framework within which his government operates changes or does it remain as it was in the past. If the policy framework changes then certain things are possible. If it doesn’t, we should not expect anything good from him.”
When asked whether India should trust Pakistan at this moment, Shri Sareen said, “It is not the question of trust but the question of interest. The question is what the other person does on the ground. For example, we trusted Bhutto, what happened? We trusted many other rulers of Pakistan, what happened? We faced ’65, Kargil and the continuous jehadi attacks. I think we should go out of the nonsensical business of how much we should trust somebody. We don’t trust anybody. I don’t trust my own Prime Minister if he is a thief. So, how can we do it with the Prime Minister of Pakistan? There is no question of trusting anybody. It is the question what do you do on the ground and how much you deliver.”
Sharif alone can
take no decision—G Parthasarthy
“It seems quite clear that because of Pakistan’s economic problems and tensions on the Afghanistan border, Prime Minister Nawaz Shairf is keen on having a peaceful and constructive relationship with India. But the question is that he alone cannot decide on these issues. For many years, he and his party PML-N have been associated with the radical Islamic groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahaba and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. We also cannot forget that when the 1993 Mumbai bomb blast took pace, the same Sharif was Prime Minister of Pakistan. Those bomb blasts were planned and organised by his handpicked DG of ISI Lt General Javed Nasir together with Dawood Ibrahim, who now lives in Karachi. So, in these circumstances if Nawaz Sharif wants better relations with India, we have to be careful in not rushing into moves like meetings without proper preparations. Because one will have to carefully look how he makes his political compulsions, while trying to improve relations with India.