The general elections in Pakistan have naturally aroused great interest in the Indian media, though the reaction has been one of caution. The Times of India (May 15 ) said “there is no denying that Nawaz Sharif’s victory…. strengthens democracy” in Pakistan “and raises hopes of a new Indo-Pak détente”. The paper pointed out that “Sharif’s triumph was underpinned by a large voter turn-out” that showed “he enjoys the mandate to embark upon an ambitious bilateral engagement process”.
Noting that though Sharif has pitched for normalisation of India-Pakistan relations, it warned that “there is no telling how the equation between the military and the newly-elected civilian government will play out in the months ahead”. Giving the background to past relationships the paper said, “New Delhi would do well to wait and watch if Sharif can restore civilian supremacy in Pakistan and consolidate the proponents of peace in that country.”
The Hindu (May 13) felt that the Pakistan election is ‘historic’ in that it has seen “a transition from one civilian government to another for the first time in its 65 year existence”. Pointing out that the agenda of Sharif’s party is “Centre-right”, similar to Imran Khan’s “but offering more details and stability”, the paper said it has still “clearly touched a chord in a population that is increasingly suspicious of the US, but also knows the country cannot live in isolation.” Where Sharif gives most hope, the paper added, “is in his strong and unambiguous articulation of better India-Pakistan relations, though this will depend on his stated determination to correct the civil-military imbalance and reclaim the national agenda from the security establishment.”
The New Indian Express (May 13 ) while admiring Sharif’s “remarkable come-back” has suggested that “New Delhi will do well to wait and see if his (Sharif’s) actions match his words.” Sounding a little sceptical, the paper pointed out what happened in 1999 when preparations for the Kargil operations were on, and said “even in the recent elections, Sharif’s party was allied with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi” and had cosy relationship with Islamists.” In conclusion the paper said “the UPA government might find it difficult to resist the temptation of reviving its pursuit of a borderless world, now that Pakistan has a strong civilian government, but warned that India should “wait to see that Sharif acts on his words”. Till he does so, said the paper, India” must continue fortifying its fences, not dismantling them”.
Deccan Herald (May 13 ) noted that Pakistan’s voters “have punished the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for its performance.” Sharif, it said “has inherited a poisonous chalice” and “the security situation (in Pakistan) has been worse with bombings and shootings becoming a daily affair.” Reminding that “the military will watch how Sharif treats the former Army chief and his policies towards India, Afghanistan and the US among others,” the paper said “of importance to India, however, is whether he will act on anti-terrorist groups based in Pakistan.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry has been courting current Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani “as if he was the head of state or government in Islamabad”; Kayani is due to retire in November and it will be interesting to see who will succeed him if, in the first instance, he is willing to retire”. The point is that the United States does not want a democratic government in Pakistan but only a servile state which will constantly kow-tow to Washington and obey its orders.
Will Sharif show his independence in the context of Kerry-Kayani talks? The next few months surely will tell the world who the US will support, when it comes to its own self-interests. Judging by past behaviour, it should come as no surprise if Washington leans heavily on the Army. Sharif will get into trouble, if he shows signs of independence.