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A marker of global progress

A marker of global progress
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Christian Science Monitor has described the successful Pakistan election as a marker of global progress. The paper said: 'For too long, Pakistan has...

Christian Science Monitor has described the successful Pakistan election as a marker of global progress. The paper said: "For too long, Pakistan has been a leading example of a failing state. It has challenged the very notion of progress for all humanity. Name a world woe � religious terror, military coups, endemic illiteracy, nuclear proliferation, power blackouts, aid dependency � and Pakistan has likely been home to it. But after a remarkable election Saturday, a country of despair that has been nearly ungovernable may now be more one of hope."

True. The election has given a new hope to the people that Pakistan can be governed without military intervention. Or, for that matter, without being much influenced by mullahs who have set their own agendas for the country and egging on people, particularly in rural areas, to follow them in such a way as to undermine the democratic principles of state.

Defying guns and goons and voting of their own volition was an act of bravery given the kind of hostile atmosphere prevailing before the election. But Pakistanis appeared to have been driven by an intense yearning to vote the Pakistan People's Party government out of power using ballot as weapon. By doing so, they have shown remarkable maturity and it augurs well for the country's future.

The seamless transition from one civilian government to another in the next few days should underline the fact that democracy can flourish under Islam provided a congenial atmosphere is created and both people and their representatives in the government honour their commitments and nurture democratic institutions.

The thought of a new all-elected government being sworn in must be electrifying to Pakistanis who have not seen in recent years anything but bloodshed and mayhem. Political uncertainties, corruption scandals involving the high and mighty, a growing militancy have added to the long list of public woes. Peace and security have eluded them long ago. Domestic terrorism has emerged as the biggest challenge for civilian government which has been unable to resolve it until now.

The country's uneasy relations with its benefactor, the US, and its self-assumed role as a key player in South Asia to counter-balance India in strategic ties with Washington and Beijing have compounded the country's domestic problems. Now, with Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League set to form a new government, will the equations change, or does the status quo continue?

Even before formally assuming office, Sharif, with comfortable majority in parliament, has started naming his key aides. He has given top priority to the economy. The finance portfolio is slated to go to twice finance minister in the 1990s Ishaq Dar. Similarly, he has given utmost priority to relations with India. His invitation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend his swearing-in ceremony may be a reciprocating gesture of goodwill to Singh's invitation to visit India. But Sharif's warm response has an air of bonhomie and an indication of his strong desire to improve relations and restart the peace process whose progress is more known for the backward steps it has taken than the forward movement.

But Sharif's string of statements on everything � from setting Pakistan on path to development to reviewing relations with the US and neighbours � indicate that Pakistan is in for a big change. Or, at least that's what the PM-in-waiting wants to effect as early as possible. Nobody is sure whether he is showing his cards to all and sundry too early and too fast only to prove his sincerity to serve Pakistan for a five-year term.

Nevertheless, as far as ties with India are concerned, Sharif's flamboyancy should not charm us. In fact, he is known for that, unlike the previous prime ministers of PPP government. He has a flourish, like a true Punjabi, and he uses it with a killer instinct. During his earlier two tenures in the 1990s, Sharif had struck a perfect rapport with Indian leaders. But one should not also forget the fact that he was the prime minister when Pakistan tested a nuclear device at Chagai in Balochistan in response to India's Pokhran.

The controversy over 1999 Kargil conflict between Sharif and then Army chief General Pervez Musharaff that led to a bloodless coup is too familiar to recall. These two issues may be history but they underline the fact that Sharif, as head of the government, is bound by core national policies, the principal one being Kashmir issue, that bind his hands.

In the first flush of his success after a 14-year hiatus, Sharif's statement on resetting ties with New Delhi may be music to Indian ears since they touch the emotional chord and start resonating on both sides of the border. Sharif can't cross what is often referred to in India as Lakshman Rekha. Those who are familiar with the Ramayana know how perilous it is to cross the red line and Sharif is no exception.

Former Pakistan Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani has a realistic view of Sharif's warm statements. "I think Nawaz Sharif will move to have relatively better relations with India, at least at a superficial level, cricket matches, cultural exchanges, speaking to Punjabis in Punjabi, on the Indian side.

"But strategically, will he say, let's put Kashmir on the back burner and move forward? I don't see that happening. Will he say that we need to actually implement the Most Favoured Nation agreement that the PPP reached, which has been held in a sort of limbo by the military?" "We will have a kind of a hug-hug, embrace-embrace, but no substantial changed attitude towards India. Developments like setting up of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Kargil war have always contradicted Sharif's intentions of having good ties with India."

Being a staunch PPP man, Haqqani may be biased in analyzing Sharif's statements. But Sharif's impromptu blurt-outs like "Kargil and 26/11 won't be repeated" are no more than wishful thinking since such events are not in his hands. Incidentally, both events were engineered by the Army and ISI and what's going on behind the walls of Army headquarters and in the minds of highly secretive ISI top brass nobody, including the head of the government, knows.

Playing to the gallery is a popular game for the sub-continent politicians. Sharif seems to have started it a bit too early; or, is he setting the tune? Either way, India needs to watch; there is no need to be bowled over by the googlies coming across the border.

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