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Change of Guard in Pakistan Dawn of a New Era in Sight

Cover Story

SYED MANSOOR AGHA analyses the results of Pakistan National Assembly and state assemblies and with the rise once again of Mian Nawaz Sharif looks forward to having better bilateral relations between the two neighbours, India and Pakistan.

We can hope against all irritants that a new promising era is dawning over our next neighbour, Pakistan, and the people’s determination, so overwhelmingly expressed in the 11 May polls shall prevail against all adversaries. Peaceful transition of power through people’s participation and continuation of civil regime without interruption is a historically significant event, but the courage shown by the people is more remarkable, much appreciative. To consider it as “enthusiasm for democracy” is a misplaced notion. In fact, it is great show of assertion of peaceful means against tactics of coercion and intimidation adopted by disgruntled elements. People of Pakistan and state machinery which provide them with the chance to express themselves deserve congratulations.

Threats and acts of violence during election campaigns rocked the nation. The situation was so grave that even chairman of the ruling party could not muster courage to show up for electioneering and the son of a former P.M. was abducted in broad daylight. But all devilish acts failed to keep the people indoors.

We Indians took 55 years to achieve 60% outing on the day of polling; Pakistan’s transition to democratic system is nascent, but it achieved the outstanding milestone mark in its initial stage of democratisation of basically feudalistic society engraved with all kinds of fanaticism and superstitions. People of Pakistan deserve all appreciation. It is their victory, not of a particular party or a leader. The world can see and realise that people of the most populous Muslim country are peace lovers, denounce violence and are better fighter against “terrorists”. They have pushed terror mongers to the wall, significantly without using drones, seals and marines.

Now it is the turn of establishment to come clean and show courage to dismantle terror modules without any prejudice or reservation. Fanaticism and radicalism are cancerous growths for a society; Pakistan’s people have voted and vetoed against extremism. The time will not pardon if any institution acts to protect the deadly virus.

Another remarkable feature of the elections is explicit expression of desire for peace and friendly relations with India. There was a time when elections were swept in Pakistan on anti-India hate wave and in India too fanning of anti-Pakistan feelings was part of politics. Efforts to change the atmosphere of acrimony and animosity started in Feb 1999 when then Prime Minister of India A.B. Vajpayee rode to Lahore to inaugurate Sada-e-Sarhad bus service and sign historical Lahore Declaration with his then counterpart Mian Nawaz Sharif. Good thing is that spirit of the declaration is still alive and getting stronger though it faced several storms. During Zardari-Gilani regime, things changed a lot. Business is picking up and mood is upbeat. Need of robust trade ties, to stimulate economy, is being felt afresh. There is a thinking that Pakistan must get rid of aid crunches and must concentrate to explore and exploit its own potentials and capabilities.

Pakistan is a region full of natural resources and strategically located. By joining hands with India in Trade, Business and Industrial activity, the nation may be benefitted enormously and become self-dependent. As Mr. Nawaz Sharif indicated, economic activity and prosperity will naturally neutralise extremism. Now Pakistan has realised that co-operation with India is in the benefit of the region. All principal political parties have echoed these sentiments in recent years.

Mr. Nawaz Sharif, who is all set to be next Prime Minister with a strong tally of 124 seats in a 272-member National Assembly, has reached out to JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rahman, with 10 MNAs to join his government. Smaller groups and independents may also join hands with PML-N. So Mian Nawaz Sharif will be in a better position than his predecessor. Notably Sharif has also extended olive branch to Imran Khan whose Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf Party has emerged as second largest party with 35 MNAs and Khan has promised to co-operate with the PML-N in pursuing agenda for peace.

Imran Khan is also strongly in favour of improving ties with India. His party manifesto has promised opening transit facility for Afghan-India and Iran-India trade. Sharif’s party manifesto has also mentioned the ‘Lahore Declaration’ and promised to take the torch to new heights. The manifesto said, the accord that he signed in 1999 with then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee remains the touchstone of his India policy.

In a press conference he expressed his desire to see Mr. Vajpayee. His good will gesture towards the octogenarian BJP leader did a magic. The party leadership, which routinely used to ridicule UPA Government to be weak against Pakistan and wanted to show muscles, has welcomed Sharif’s victory and spoke for a friendly Pakistan. The BJP has joined the general consensus that the emergence of Nawaz Sharif as a strong leader and strengthening of democracy in Pakistan would improve Indo-Pak relations.

In his first interview to an Indian newspaper after winning the elections, Mr. Nawaz Sharif pitched for enhanced trade ties and assured that Pakistan will not allow anti-India activities from its soil.

He said, “Let me tell the citizens of India that we want friendship with India and will not allow any more Kargils and Mumbai-like terror attacks. Terrorism can only hurt both India and Pakistan.”

He also assured that army will be on board for promoting peace process.

Reaching out to army, he said, “I don’t think there is any opposition from the army to better ties with India. Yes, during Musharraf’s time there were problems, but Musharraf acted in his personal capacity.”

He stressed, “I am confident that the army will be on board as far as the peace process between our two countries is concerned.”

The PM designate said, “I assure you that I am committed to resolving all outstanding issues including Kashmir. The Lahore Declaration of 1999 is a good starting point. I am determined to restore the authority of the PM’s office. The army will report to the PM, who is the boss.”

He also favoured “granting the MFN status and promoting trade and business ties to the benefit of both nations. Economy and trade are my favourite subjects.”

“Wait and watch…we will come out with bold economic policies.”

Regarding outstanding disputes between the two countries, he said, “The disputes would be discussed to improve relations between the two countries.”

“Nawaz Sharif is very serious about better relations with India. (President Asif Ali) Zardari was thwarted by the establishment. Being a Punjabi and a mandate from Punjab, Sharif can do much more,” says retired Pakistani general Talat Masood.

India also took no time to welcome new developments in the neighbourhood. External Affairs Minister quickly congratulated Pakistan for historical elections. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh also wrote a letter to “Mian Sahib” with a personal touch. He also invited Sharif to India. Responding to the invitation, he said, “We have to meet and work towards a peaceful and prosperous south Asia.” Nawaz Sharif also expressed desire that he would like to see Dr. Manmohan Singh at his oath taking ceremony. But it seems that Chinese Prime Minister will be the first leader to visit Islamabad after the regime change.

Of course there are some voices against the popular trend. We hope these voices are getting weaker and weaker. Talking to BBC, Sharif said revival of economy would help resolve extremism‚ terrorism‚ corruption‚ unemployment‚ poverty and remove the sense of deprivation.

In a significant statement Sharif said, “Taliban’s offer for dialogue would be taken seriously.”

It is to be seen how Pakistan conducts after NATO pull-out from Afghanistan. Pakistan regime has some apprehensions regarding Indo-Afghanistan ties. The future course will be effected by how India develops its ties with new Afghanistan, how Pakistan-China-India-Iran join hands to safeguard the interests of this region. SAARC’s development will also much depend on how India and Pakistan move forward hands in with Afghanistan and China.

[syyedagha@hotmail.com]



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