Thursday, May 16, 2013

Indo-Pakistan Relations a la Nawaz Sharif


     In an earlier note in this journal I had outlined how Pakistan policy towards use of Jehad against India is likely to evolve with the departure of US/NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014 (  The recent fairly successful election in Pakistan has given rise to intense speculation of the changed prospects of better relations between the two countries.  Aggressive questions by Indian Media have forced Nawaz Sharif to express positive sentiments about peace with India and to invite the Indian PM for events normally not attended by foreign dignitaries.  This has already given rise to a counter statement by Syed Salahuddin, head of Hizbul Mujahideen(HM) and member of the Jehad Council warning him not to dilute Pakistan's anti-India policy. What is the likely policy orientation of a Nawaz Sharif led Civilian Pakistan Government and how if at all is it likely be to be different from policy under the previous Civilian Government?

Nawaz's Support Base

  Nawaz Sharif owes his clear victory in the election at least in part to, (a) The branding of PPP & ANP as "secular parties" by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its deceleration of war on them during the elections (assassinations/bombing of their candidates, workers and supporteres). (b) Close relations with and support of the Jehadi parties in Punjab like the Jamat U Dawa(JuD) / Lakshar-e-Toiba(LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad(JM).  Add to this the votes and seats won by Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Jamat e Islami (JI), the religious fundamentalist base is large.  Like any good politician he is unlikely to openly challenge the objectives of these parties (e.g. Salafi/Wahabi Islamization of Kashmir), which he perhaps shares.  He may however, try to convince them to change their strategy and tactics in the interest of Pakistan's global image and failing economy. 

The other part of his support base, the lower middle class youth looking for jobs and earning opportunities and businessmen looking for profits, could in contrast provide him with an equally strong base for normalizing economic relations and exploring new avenues for mutual economic benefit.  To the extent that terrorist bombings and assassinations in Pakistan are a threat to foreign, non-resident Pakistani and even domestic investment (capital flight), the base could support strong measures to restore law and order in Pakistan.

Pakistan Army Objective

  As I wrote earlier, "As far as the Pakistan Army is concerned the most important event that will shape its behavior in the next two years is the accelerated withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. This withdrawal provides it a golden opportunity to restore its hegemony in Afghanistan.  Ideally the Army would like to reestablish the dominant position it had before the Taliban was driven out of Afghanistan and established its headquarters and operating bases in Pakistan (Queta Shura, Wazirstan et al).  Failing this it would be happy with a regime that sub-serves the Pakistan Army’s interests.  This is likely to be the central and most vital objective of the Pakistan Army and its primary operational instrument the ISI, during the next two-three years."

I concluded that, " The hostile Pakistani army action across the LOC is a signal to the Pakistani jihadists that the Pakistan army and Government are not abandoning their anti-India policy, in their respective quests:  The Army for a dominant role in Afghanistan, financed and underwritten to the maximum extent possible by the USA and the Civilian Government for normalization of relations with India so as to remove the stigma of being dubbed “terrorist central” and to reduce the control of thee Army over the political system and government."

Democratically Elected PM

     Nawaz Sharif's assumption of the reins of government with a democratic mandate reinforces these conclusions and fleshes them out more clearly.  Nawaz Sharif in full co-operation of the Army is likely to promote a shift of Jehad related activities (promoting, training, organising, managing jehad), out of Pakistan and into Afghanistan and the badlands of the Af-Pak borders to increase deniablity.  As he said,  he will "not allow Bombay type attacks from the soil of Pakistan."  He may also try to moderate the Jehadi's anti-India & anti-US rhetoric and to keep it out of media that can be accessed easily by foreigners and foreign (including Indian) media. On the other hand he may give a freer hand to diplomats and Jehadi's on speaking about Kashmir related issues, while simultaneously stepping up the decibal level on the need for Indo-Pak peace.

Economic Relations

    If Nawaz Sharif and his party choose, they can bring about complete normalization of economic-business relations(including investment), trade and transit (to Afghanistan & Central Asia) policy and infrastructure connectivity between Pakistan (+PoK/AK) and India (including J&K). As these are mutually beneficial relations, on our side the need is to meet each other half way (there is no need for special concessions by either party).  many of these ideas were discussed at a Seminar that I attended at the Wilson Center in Washington with eminent Pakistani economists & retired bureaucrats in late 2012. If Pakistan chooses it could become the trading and transport hub for connecting thriving economies of  Central Asia, India, Afghanistan (mineral resource potential) and Iran/Gulf countries. The TAPI pipeline project could be brought more firmly on the agenda.  Permanent Normal Trading Status (MFN) is economically minor but politically important foundation on which this mutually beneficial relationship can be built. As noted by many observers, the two Punjabs could play a very important role in creating the positive narrative to smooth the political path.
     In this, I differ somewhat with Mr Shyam Saran (BS 15/5/13) who favors an incremental approach. I would favor an approach that asks the new government how quickly and how far they are willing to go on all economically related issues and be willing to move as fast as they are able to do.  I must warn that moving fast does not mean making asymmetric concessions: If the new democratically elected government of Pakistan cannot convince its on electorate of the benefits to Pakistan of economic normalization, then no amount of concessions can help in convincing the masses: They would merely be seen as attempts to bribe special interests to adopt anti-national policies.  Both bilateral and SAARC processes need to be activated to provide a greater flexibility.
        On our side, we need to isolate such non-concessional, mutually beneficial relations from becoming hostage to jehadist bombings in India.  Empty gesture that do not harm the Pakistan Military, its terrorist instrument the ISI, and the Jehadists managed by them, have no effect on their behavior.  We really have to be more innovative and bolder in disrupting the Jehad supply chain and taking the fight to them.


     In my view there is likely to be little or no substantive change in policy towards cross border Jehad, though it may be better nuanced and supported by a more credible civilian government narrative, which will again fool many analysts in the West (you can fool some of the people all of the time).  However, the new government has the support base and democratic mandate to take significant steps towards normalization of economic relations with India.  We should be prepared to meet them half way to wherever and however quickly they want to move on this area.

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