There was speculation about a possible change in stand of the new Sharif-governed Pakistan towards India. However, the fact that he was chosen for the post of Prime Minister by Pakistan’s Army Chief General Bajwa, should put an end to speculation what India-Pakistan relations will be under Sharif.
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
In response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulatory message to Shehbaz Sharif for being elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Sharif thanked Modi and tweeted, “Thank you Prime Minister Narendra Modi for felicitations. Pakistan desires peaceful & cooperative ties with India. Peaceful settlement of outstanding disputes including Jammu & Kashmir is indispensable. Pakistan’s sacrifices in fighting terrorism are well-known. Let’s secure peace and focus on socio-economic development of our people.” In his first address to the National Assembly after being sworn in, Sharif had said, "We want good ties with India but durable peace is not possible until the Kashmir dispute is resolved." Sharif had criticized India when Article 370 was abolished on August 6, 2019.
Shehbaz was elected as the President of PML-N in August 2002 while in exile in Saudi Arabia. Shehbaz was the longest serving Chief Minister of Punjab having served three tenures and since August 13, 2018 was serving in the National Assembly as Leader of the Opposition. He owns the ‘Ittefaq Group’, a multimillion-dollar steel conglomerate in Pakistan, jointly with his family. He also owns some 83 acres of farmland, four non-agricultural projects in Pakistan and a house in London.
There has been speculation about a possible change in stand of Sharif-governed Pakistan towards India. In this context, Ayaz Amir, former military officer and member of Pakistan’s National Assembly (2008-2013), said in a recent TV discussion that Shehbaz Sharif was chosen for the post of Prime Minister by Pakistan’s Army Chief General Bajwa. That should put an end to speculation what India-Pakistan relations will be under Sharif.
In his first address to the National Assembly after being sworn in, Sharif had said, "We want good ties with India but durable peace is not possible until the Kashmir dispute is resolved."
When Benazir Bhutto was to return from exile to participate in the 2007 elections in Pakistan, she was met by General Pervez Musharraf in Dubai and categorically told that even if she gets elected as Prime Minister, the military, foreign policy and defence policy will remain with the Pakistani army, otherwise the corruption charges against her and her family would not be revoked and the Constitution would not be amended to allow her contesting elections for a third time. Musharraf did allowBenazir to return to Pakistan owing to Western and Saudi pressure, but he had already planned her assassination with help from Al Qaeda.
It is an established fact that right from the birth of Pakistan, the army has ruled the country either directly or indirectly and given the hold it has in every segment of Pakistan, this will not change in the foreseeable future. That is why no matter how much Sharif may want to improve relations with India, he will have the same constraints as his elder brother Nawaz Sharif and other political predecessors. Even with Sharif as the new Prime Minister, the Army’s hold over Pakistan will continue as hitherto-fore.
On February 25, 2021, the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) of India and Pakistan spoke over the hotline. This was followed by a joint statement, in which the two countries agreed to strictly observe all agreements, understandings and ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and all other sectors with effect from February 24-25 midnight 2021. Ceasefire violations by Pakistan along J&K border declined sharply in 2021 albeit there were few after February 2021. With the ceasefire holding out, the Pakistani army has moved in around 60 heavy caliber guns besides strengthening its air defence system, artillery and mortars.
Addressing a press conference on January 12, 2022, ahead of the Army Day, then Chief of the Army Staff, General M.M. Naravane had said that the concentration of some 350 to 400 terrorists in terror launch pads and training facilities on the other side (Pakistani side) of the LoC and repeated infiltration attempts expose the nefarious intents of the adversary. Pakistan as usual denied existence on any launch pads and training facilities for terrorists.
The concentration of some 350 to 400 terrorists in terror launch pads and training facilities on the Pakistani side of the LoC and repeated infiltration attempts expose the nefarious intents of the adversary
Subsequent media reports of April 19, 2022, quoted security officials saying that the launch pads across the LoC are abuzz with activities of around 60 to 80 terrorists who are believed to be Afghan mercenaries, being trained with the possible aim of infiltrating into Jammu and Kashmir in the summer months. Now media has quoted Army sources that as per data of January-March 2022, 15 youth from J&K joined militancy, as many as 172 terrorists including 79 foreigners are active in J&K. A total of 156 terrorists (79 locals and 77 foreigners) are active in Kashmir and 16 others including two foreigners are operating in the Jammu region.It is logical to assume that during the Shehbaz Sharif regime, the Pakistani army and ISI will continue its proxy war on India.
For India, the cause of concern is that the ISIS or Haqqani Networks is suspected in the terrorist encounter with security forces in Jammu on April 22, 2022. Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashker-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorists also who have been fighting alongside Taliban in Afghanistan are likely to attempt infiltration into J&K.
However, Pakistan’s problems are multiplying beyond its economic woes and the Chinese debt trap that it finds itself in. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has gained sizeable territory in North Waziristan and has launched the Spring Offensive. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) is also attacking the Pakistani military security establishment regularly. On April 26, 2022, Shaari Baloch aka Bramsh of BLA’s Majeed Brigade blew herself targeting a vehicle of Chinese nationals of the Karachi University, killing three Chinese nationals - Chen Sai (F), Ding Mupeng (F) and Director of Confucius Centre, Professor Huang Guiping (M), in addition to one Pakistani national. A fourth Chinese national Wang Yuqing and Pakistani guard Hamid were wounded. The Baloch populations has been experiencing China-backed genocide by the Pakistan Army for past several years. The killing of Chinese national will put additional Chinese pressure on Pakistan and the Pakistani army.
As per data of January-March 2022, as many as 172 terrorists including 79 foreigners are active in J&K. It is logical to assume that during the Shehbaz Sharif regime, the Pakistani army and ISI will continue its proxy war on India.
There is anger in Sindh, including in the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pak Sarzamin Party (PSP) that claims to represent the Urdu-speaking population of urban Sindh, over the language bill and the manner in which the PPP government in Sindh is seeking to control Karachi, by drastically limiting the powers of local government which primarily represents rural Sindh. Moreover, the Afghanistan-Pakistan relations are deteriorating with the Taliban objecting to Pakistan fencing the Durand Line and cross-border firing and air attacks by Pakistan in Afghan territory. The acting defence minister of the Interim Taliban Government has warned Pakistan that it will not tolerate another attack.
The Pakistan Army brought the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) and Imran Khan to power in 2018 but it was once again the military that shooed him out once he proved to be incapable of governing the country and started questioning military appointments. On January 8, 2020, the Senate of Pakistan passed the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill 2020, allowing for Army Chief General Q.J. Bajwa’s tenure extension up to three years till November 29, 2022. Will he retire quietly, force Sharif to grant him another extension or ‘create’ a situation for taking over as Chief Martial Law Administrator of Pakistan like Musharraf?