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A new Sharif in town

What does Nawaz Sharif’s victory mean for India?

The Pakistan Muslim League (N) has emerged as a decisive winner in Pakistan’s general elections held on May 11.  The embattled incumbent, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was routed in Punjab, and save for Sindh (which accounted for 29 of 32 seats won by the PPP) failed to make an impact in any other province.  Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) succeeded in bringing out first-time voters, but managed to win a majority only in Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

The religious jamaats Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal-ur-Rehman (JUI(F)) failed to make an impact.  And while the elections themselves were largely successful, voter turnout in Balochistan was between 15-20 less than 3 per cent, further accentuating the troubled province’s security situation and disenchantment with the Pakistani state.

But what does all this mean to India?

Nawaz Sharif, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal days before the election, indicated that he wanted to improve ties with India and the U.S.  In this regard, it is quite possible that the long-delayed granting of Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India will be approved within Mr. Sharif’s first few months in office.  However, it is important that policy makers in India not read too much into what is essentially a symbolic gesture of little real consequence to India.

For India, it is important to remember that the height of the Kashmir insurgency flourished during Pakistan’s most “democratic” decade — the 1990s.  Pakistan test-fired its “Islamic” nuclear bomb and waged an undeclared war on India in Kargil during democratic regimes.  Indeed, it proliferated nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya during periods of democracy. So much for those who say a democratic Pakistan is in India’s interests.

In the larger context of India-Pakistan relations, Mr. Sharif’s ascent to the position of prime minister is of minimal consequence.  Indeed, more important transitions in power lie ahead in the next couple of years that will impact the India-Pakistan relationship.

The most important of these transitions on the Pakistani side is the end of Gen. Kayani’s tenure as COAS on October 31, 2013.  The Pakistani army has had monopoly over relations with India since the 1958 coup d’état.  This has been true regardless of whether the army or a civilian government was in charge of Pakistan.

The frontrunners for the position of COAS have among them Kayani-loyalists, American favorites, and Kargil veterans alike.  The eventual winner will have a greater say in Pakistan’s relations with India than Mr. Sharif, regardless of the decisiveness of the PML(N)’s democratic mandate.

On this side of the barbed-wire fence, India goes to poll in mid-2014.  This leaves the UPA with very little capital for grand, unilateral gestures that might ultimately impair India’s national interests.  There are too many imponderables at play for conclusive assessments on how the 2014 Lok Sabha elections will play out.  Can the UPA and the Congress retain power, mired as they are in scandals?  If they do, what role will prime minister Manmohan Singh play in a future government?  If strong anti-incumbency trends emerge, what position vis-a-vis Pakistan will a BJP-led coalition take?

Both prime ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have dealt with Pakistan-perpetrated attacks (the Kandahar hijacking, 13/12, 26/11, among others).  Both inevitably came around to rapprochement with Pakistan.  But if provocations remain abetted, shouldn’t the quality of our response change?

A third, and equally important transition, involves Afghanistan. U.S.-led coalition forces are scheduled to withdraw from a decade-long war in Afghanistan at the end of 2014.  While unresolved quarrels with Afghanistan persist, Pakistan sees the withdrawal of U.S. forces as largely benefiting its cause.  But a U.S. retreat could see the return of thousands of unemployed jihadis whose “talents” are better engaged elsewhere than in Pakistan.  That elsewhere might be Jammu & Kashmir.

An increase in terror-related violence in India, leading up to, and accelerating after U.S. withdrawal in 2014 will indicate that the Pakistani establishment’s animosity towards India remains intact and is about to enter a new phase.  What someone like Nawaz Sharif can do in such a scenario, regardless of honorable intentions, will remain a question mark.  Those in charge of India’s foreign policy, ought to be considering policy options on Pakistan, expecting worst-case scenarios, given lessons learned from history. Democracy or no democracy.

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Urdunama: Hafiz Mian

Roznama Ummat carried this uniquely interesting narration by Jamaat ud-Dawwa’s amir, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed on the birth of his organization, its association with the Lashkar-e-Taiba and his thoughts on Kashmir.  Excerpts follow (اردو):

Jamaat ud-Dawwa (JuD) was formed in 1985 by five or six of us friends.  The initial group included the likes of Zafar Iqbal, who was at university with me, and Yahya Mujahid.  Our goal was to write “tableeghi” literature and circulate it to the public.  Later, we founded a magazine called the “ud-Dawwa,” which eventually gained popularity.  When a ban on the magazine was enforced during the Musharraf regime, our circulation was about 150,000 per month.

Very soon, the JuD was being supported by leading scholars in the land, including my uncle Hafiz Abdullah Bahawalpuri.  Other early supporters included Sheikh Badiuddin Rashidi, Hafiz Abdul Mannan Noorpuri, and Hafiz Abdul Islam bin Muhammad.

We have always supported the rights of the Kashmiris to self-determination, and have labeled India an occupying force.  1990-91 saw the birth of organized “armed resistance” against India’s occupation.  Among the organizations fighting India’s occupation was a group called Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).  This organization and its setup was based exclusively in Kashmir.  There was never any relationship between the JuD and the LeT, nor was any leader of the JuD ever the head of the LeT.  But a section of India’s media has consistently spread propaganda alleging that I am the leader of the LeT.

When Musharraf banned the LeT, it was alleged that the Jamaat ud-Dawwa was created as a cover organization for the LeT. However, the JuD was created decades ago in 1985.  There is no doubt that the JuD, like the LeT, supports the achievement of “azaadi” in Kashmir via jihad; but we are not associated with the LeT. [روزنامہ امّت]

Hafiz Saeed is back in the news, leading a rag-tag outfit of far-right groups and former heads the ISI, under the banner of Difa-e-Pakistan Council (Defense of Pakistan Council).  News reports also suggest that Mr. Saeed is considering joining mainstream politics and transforming the identity of the JuD from being a “charitable organization” to a political party.  Mr. Saeed also recently shared a dais with SM Qureshi, former Pakistani foreign minister and now a member of Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf party, which has a conveniently vague association with the Difa-e-Pakistan Council.

Renouncing the LeT, which many in India, the U.S. and perhaps even in Pakistan, associate with the horrors of 26/11, may be the first of many steps in the transformation of a mass murderer into mainstream politician.  Or perhaps it is meant to disassociate himself from any future acts of terror imposed on the people of India.  Clearly, for all its demagoguery,  the Difa-e-Pakistan Council is yet to demonstrate proof of concept.  None of this augurs very well for India.

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