No reason to celebrate

No reason to celebrate

Indian, American and many other democratic governments have congratulated the Pakistani people for successfully electing a new government to replace the outgoing democratically chosen government.

May 2013 election in Pakistan created new history. This is the first ever peaceful democratic transition in that country in above six and half decades of its political history. But this happy development in India’s immediate neighbourhood provides no cause for unwarranted celebration.

First of all, victory of PML (N) headed by Nawaz Sharif in the last election is not a path-breaking political development in Pakistan. Sharif is going to be Pakistan’s prime minister for the third time. Neither the leader nor the party has any great blueprint for altering the fundamentals of Pakistan’s attitude and policy towards India.

Last time Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister, Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee embarked on a Lahore bus diplomacy that broke down in a matter of months due to Pakistani army’s Kargil misadventure. While prime minister Manmohan Singh congratulated Nawaz Sharif even before the Pakistani election results were officially declared and the latter expressed his desire to invite Singh to attend his inaugural ceremony, such symbolic signal of amity has little significance given the nature and pattern of India-Pakistan relations.

Sharif is not known to have had great many supporters in the Pakistani army. He has vinegary experience with the army since his removal from power by a military coup staged by general Pervez Musharraf.

While a second Kargil is implausible and a military coup is equally improbable due to large magnitude of popular support Nawaz received in the recent election and the fear of international condemnation, no trustworthy peace initiative towards India by the new Pakistani government can be anticipated without the backing and endorsement of the Pakistani military.

The current army chief’s dislike for India is too well known. After he steps down in the near future, there is little to reckon that the next army chief will have any different views on Pakistan’s relations with India.

To the contrary, Pakistani army will have tougher position that will be more clearly discernible at the time of and soon after the withdrawal of American and Nato forces from Afghanistan. Indian economic presence and political influence in Afghanistan will be substantially susceptible to Pakistan’s role on the ground.

The United States badly needed Pakistan to wage the global war on terror, continued to court Islamabad even after Osama bin Laden was found hiding in the military barracks of that country and will require Pakistani assistance for a trouble free exit of its forces from Afghanistan. India’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan will matter less for the US, Nato countries and Pakistan when the end game is played in Kabul.

Too preoccupied

Nawaz Sharif administration and the Pakistani army will be too preoccupied over the Afghan issue in coming months and years to be able to put the spotlight on building constructive ties with India. Rather, Pakistan may have to come to terms with and India may have to guard against renewed terrorist activities in India that could generate intense bilateral tension.

It is noteworthy that the political violence caused by religious extremists during the Pakistani election that resulted in more than a hundred deaths did not affect rallies organised PML (N) campaigns. Religious extremists groups and anti-India militant organisations surely would have some expectations from the Sharif government when they turn their eyes towards India.

Will Sharif be able to do more than what Zardari government claimed to have tried towards discouraging, apprehending or punishing perpetrators of anti-India terrorism?
No matter how the world interprets the outcome of the American-led war in Afghanistan, the Taliban, the Haqqani group, LeT and other anti-India terrorist outfits will be inspired and plan new schemes of their violent activities.

All these factors throw water on those elements in India as well as Pakistan that envision cooperative, fruitful and beneficial relations between the two nuclear neighbours. Nawaz Sharif, a businessman, is expected to promote trade relations with India. Power shortages in Pakistan are expected to draw Indian investments and establish energy cooperation between the two countries. People in Pakistan are apparently tired of terrorism and violence and aspire for better relations with India.

All these are possible only when the Pakistani establishment, including the military and intelligence agencies, vow to wage a war against terrorism, particularly in the post-American Afghan scenario. Unless the non-state actors are reigned in, the Pakistani State will face the gravest of dangers.

It is time to recall the advice of former US president Bill Clinton to former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf during his trip to Pakistan in March 2000 -- before the terrorists struck the US in September 2001 -- when he said: “…I thought terrorism would eventually destroy Pakistan from within if he (Musharraf) didn’t move against it.”            
India cannot afford to be optimistic on its relations with Pakistan, no matter who forms the government and what type of government, unless the Pakistani state turns against terrorism of all kinds.