As political slogans go, the one that Nawaz Sharif actually used in the 1980s was Jaag Punjabi Jaag, Teri Pug Nu Lugya Daag (Rise Punjabi rise, your pugdi’s honour is at stake). But today, the slogan more apt for the Pakistani prime minister designate is the one in the headline: Rise Punjabi rise, your country is up in flames. Chaos, murder and mayhem continue unabated in Pakistan despite a seemingly successful conclusion of their elections nine days ago. The new governments at the centre and in the provinces have not yet been sworn in.
Sharif is probably the only prime minister who hasn’t even had the luxury of a honeymoon period. Obits have been written across the globe of his government and the low expectations from the man himself, even before he has been sworn into office. The gushing and the softy, cuddly articles have only come in from India’s candle-brigade columnists. Hope runs fierce in their veins whichever government comes into power in Islamabad. Hope has never worked as a policy but it makes for a populist argument for peace, I have to concede.
And all this hope springs from a string of well orchestrated statements from Nawaz Sharif who knows how to play to the galleries. He is a consummate politician, courteous to foreign media, harsh with domestic media, mouths platitudes to religious minorities but fashions himself as Amirul Momineen, Commander of the Faithful. Under Sharif’s watch happened Kargil and the phenomenal rise of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (read Lashkar-e-Toiba) in Punjab. He built the motorway and provided the metro bus for his people, but he is also known for the ruthless ‘Operation Clean-up’ and ‘Operation Jackal’.
A man who General Zia-ul-Haq lovingly called his son, Nawaz Sharif proved his loyalty to his mentor by passing the Shari’ah bill in 1990. The youngest prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, once also called Mr Principles, is said to have received funds from Osama bin Laden. This revelation was made by Khaled Khawaja, a former ISI spymaster, who said that he arranged five meetings between Sharif and bin Laden. To a private TV channel, he revealed, “I still remember that Osama provided me funds that I handed over to the then Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz to topple Benazir Bhutto’s government… Nawaz insisted that I arrange a direct meeting with Osama which I did in Saudi Arabia… Nawaz was looking for Rs 500 million from Osama. Although Osama provided a comparatively smaller sum.”
It would be prudent to remember that the very same Nawaz Sharif who charmingly talks of building a road from Kabul to Kolkata played a significant role in the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. He is a friend of the mujahideen in Afghanistan. His taunt to the PPP in the 1993 election was “You gave up Dhaka, we took Kabul.” Pakistan’s western neighbour is not too thrilled to have Sharif in the prime minister’s chair in Islamabad. So much so that President Karzai is hotfooting his way to New Delhi next week and on the top on his agenda is supply of lethal and non-lethal military equipment from India. With NATO forces exiting next year and Nawaz Sharif at the helm of affairs in Pakistan, the Taliban see 2014 as their comeback year.
It is naïve to expect Sharif to bend on Kashmir, bring 26/11 perpetrators to justice, move comprehensively on MFN status, crackdown on militancy directed against India or provide land route via Wagah-Attari route for trade between India and Afghanistan. These are the deliverables that should determine whether the Indian prime minister should undertake a visit to Pakistan or not. Grandstanding on Pakistan has never worked for us.
Nawaz Sharif has more than enough to handle on the domestic front, before he can take major leaps in foreign policy. He is presiding over a severely Balkanised Pakistan where his writ basically runs only in Punjab. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is with Imran’s PTI, Sindh is split between the PPP and the MQM, lesser said about the plight of Balochistan, ‘Azad’ Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan the better. There is a financial crisis, power crisis and Islamist militancy which have made it the ‘migraine of the world’. He should know the areas to focus on, if he is to avoid a catastrophe.
As far as India is concerned, pulling down fences with Pakistan is not prudent, and it has never been a viable option, despite talk of soft borders. Nobody is suggesting isolating our problematic neighbour, but our leadership can better use the enthusiasm and energies to set its own house in order, especially a year before elections.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash