Keeping a close eye on Pakistan

The new Pakistani Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, who took office this week after the ousting of his predecessor Imran Khan, did not don’t waste a minute mentioning the K-word (Kashmir). Sharif spent a lot of time on India in his foreign policy segment in his speech to Parliament.

After Sharif’s foreign policy statement, there can be many interpretations of how the new regime wants to conduct its international relations, especially with India.

After the mention in Parliament, Sharif spoke about Kashmir the next day in a tweet. This was not surprising as what he said is the declared national position of Pakistan.

Whether he did it for a domestic or international audience, Sharif said there could be no progress in India-Pakistan relations without resolving Kashmir. “We want good relations with India, but lasting peace is not possible until the Kashmir dispute is resolved,” he said, adding that Pakistan would continue to provide political support. , diplomatic and moral to the people of Kashmir.

The two Sharif brothers – older brother Nawaz and Shehbaz – were in exile for seven years in Saudi Arabia and London after a 1999 coup by General Pervez Musharraf.

What does the new regime mean for India and Pakistan? Will there be a new beginning? Will the two prime ministers find common ground and renew the dialogue? For India, Kashmir would no longer be a point of contention after the trifurcation of the state in August 2019. But Pakistan continues to raise it in international forums.

Shehbaz, the three-time chief minister of Punjab, is projected as a “workaholic” leader. Coming from a large political family, he is a good administrator. Pakistani newspaper Dawn noted that Shehbaz likes to call himself Khadim-i-Aala (chief servant). Shehbaz has taken over as Pakistan is at the crossroads of its economic, political and strategic goals. The country is going through an acute financial crisis, which has prompted its military leaders to do some soul-searching.

India is following developments in Pakistan closely and with “cautious optimism”. It is too early to speculate, and the next few weeks will show whether the will exists on both sides to normalize relations. There are political constraints on both sides. Sustained and meaningful dialogue could lead to a positive outcome.

Relations between the two countries have been tumultuous in recent years. Incidents like the 2016 Balakot strike, the 2019 Pulwama attack and the Jammu and Kashmir trifurcation have kept relations strained in recent years.

The two countries want the other to take a first step towards resuming dialogue, interrupted since 2016. Imran Khan’s position was that any talks were conditional on New Delhi reversing the Aug. 5 decision on Kashmir. And New Delhi does not want to resume negotiations until after the end of cross-border terrorism.

The Sharif family has advocated for better ties with India in the past. Shehbaz’s last visit to India was in December 2013, when he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He was also a big proponent of better trade relations.

For Sharif, the priority will be to deal with the economic crisis, to keep the political alliance intact at home and to maintain relations with other countries at the international level.

He must also improve relations between the Pak and the United States which had been strained under the regime of Imran Khan.

On the economic front, the resumption of the International Monetary Fund’s $6 billion bailout will be crucial for the new government.

A major decision for the new leader will be the extension of the current army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, when his mandate expires in November. The Pakistani army supported Shahbaz Sharif. The army is the main political actor. Shehbaz Sharif has been closer to the army than his brother Nawaz and could mend strained relations with powerful army generals.

The army is fighting for better relations with India. Interestingly, Javed Bajwa had recently publicly issued a conciliatory note about ties with India and resolving the Kashmir issue through dialogue.

The Indian and Pakistani armies implemented a ceasefire at the Line of Control in February last year, and it has held until now. The army has decided to drastically reduce its troop strength by 5.38 lakh over the next five years. The money saved would be used for modernization, focusing on firepower and cyber warfare.

Many experts believe that engaging with Pakistan would be a great diplomatic gesture. There will always be differences, but success lies in putting aside contentious issues and moving forward with what is possible like trade, the health sector and climate change.

New Delhi has so far made the right noises and is keeping a close eye on what is happening in Pakistan. This is indeed the right step. The coming weeks will reveal what is on Sharif’s mind and this will be the time to respond.

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