Shehbaz Sharif is an able administrator with a focus on development. Though he has already raked up the Kashmir issue, there’s a likelihood that ties between the two nations will see improvement
The political crisis in Pakistan is throwing one surprise after another. India is watching closely as Shehbaz Sharif is likely to become the next prime minister of the neighbouring nation.
Imran Khan was considered more hawkish toward India and the relationships with Pakistan plummeted as he constantly brought up Kashmir. Sharif too spoke about Kashmir but experts believe that there are chances that the two countries work toward a more constructive bilateral relationship.
“My first priority is national harmony. We want peace with India, but peace is not possible without resolution of the Kashmir issue,” said the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s president, who has been appointed by the Opposition for the prime minister’s post.
And while Kashmir will continue to remain a bone of contention, New Delhi is optimistic that Sharif’s appointment is likely to see improvement in diplomatic openings.
A more tolerant leader
For starters, the 70-year-old leader has shown more tolerance toward minorities in Pakistan and his approach toward India has not been harsh.
During Holi, he wished Hindus living in Pakistan for the festival and tweeted, “Our diversity is our greatest strength. Pakistan belongs to all its citizens, irrespective of their caste, creed, and colour. May the day be source of peace and happiness for all.’’
Happy Holi to the Pakistani Hindu community & all those celebrating this festival. Our diversity is our greatest strength. Pakistan belongs to all its citizens irrespective of their caste, creed and colour. May the day be the source of peace & happiness for all!
— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) March 18, 2022
Sharif has in the past not hesitated to condemn the attack on Hindu and Christian minorities in Pakistan, displaying a more tolerant approach. This is in contrast to Imran Khan under whose rule the space of religious freedom continued to shrink in Pakistan.
Ceasefire to continue?
Imran Khan is said to have lost the support of Pakistan’s powerful military and his downfall is a clear indication that the army still influences who will get the top job in Pakistan. Sharif, the brother of former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif, is said to have close ties with the army.
“No top Pakistani opposition leader has a closer relationship with the military than Shehbaz,” Michael Kugleman, senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based Wilson Centre told ThePrint. “He has avoided confrontational positions toward the military and tried to stay above the fray, and this has helped him enjoy a favourite son status.”
It only helps that Nawaz Sharif is believed to have handpicked Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for his “pro-democracy views”.
Pakistan’s military has been in support of the ceasefire at the Line of Control and has kept its word since last February.
Bajwa, whose second three-year term is due to end later this year, had recently said that he wanted good relations with India because “Pakistan will benefit if we improve ties with India”. He also said that the army is ready to resume peace negotiations with India including talks on Kashmir. If Sharif is on the same page as the army, this will play a part in improving ties with India.
“It is time [for India and Pakistan] to move on. Let us sit down and resolve our issues including Kashmir… We want development first,” Bajwa reportedly said at the Islamabad Security Dialogue, which was held on April 1 and 2.
Eyes on development
Sharif is also seen as a pro-development leader. He is a business-friendly administrator who put his weight behind ambitious infrastructure projects during his tenure as the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.
Improving ties with India will help Pakistan’s development agenda and provide a much-needed boost to the country’s flailing economy.
Shehbaz Sharif as the chief minister of Pakistan Punjab sought to strengthen people-to-people and economic ties with our Punjab, always keeping dialogue open.
In 2017, when both Punjabs and northern India were facing a smog crisis, Sharif wrote to his counterpart Captain Amarinder Singh, seeking a mechanism to tackle the issue, reports The Diplomat. “Let us join hands for securing a prosperous future for the people of our two provinces,” he wrote.
Improving business ties
The Sharif family has always pushed for improving ties with India.
Nawaz Sharif reportedly has close ties with Sajjan Jindal, India’s steel magnate, and Shehbaz Sharif is also part owner of a steel conglomerate Ittefaq group. Experts on Pakistan say that there is a possibility of a collaborative venture between India and Pakistan, reports The New Indian Express.
During his visit to India in 2013, Shehbaz Sharif met then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, visited his ancestral village Jatti Umrah in Punjab, and held meetings with then Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. He visited Metro stations and solid waste management plants in Delhi, and a power plant in Haryana, according to a report in The Indian Express.
While interacting with journalists during his visit, Shehbaz had said that “war is not an option”. He backed the resumption of “peaceful dialogue” on all issues including “Sir Creek, Siachen, water and Kashmir”, the newspaper report.
Sharif’s resolution-oriented approach then might see some progress in the relationship between India and Pakistan.
With inputs from agencies