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Global Issue 15

Arena Politics shawar is one possibility. Issues with less electoral appeal, however important, might well be neglected. It is all but certain that taxes will continue to be uncollected; the judicial system will still be dysfunctional and, for millions of Pakistanis, the schools will remain hopelessly inadequate. When it comes to foreign policy, the new government’s challenges are daunting. Sharif campaigned on a platform of opposing drones and pulling out of the US’s war on terror. Given Washington’s power to block a desperately needed IMF package, he is unlikely to follow through on either pledge. Even if Washington tries to make helpful statements about reducing the number of strikes, there can be little doubt that the US will continue with its drone programme. Sharif will have to accept that. But there is one area in which he could be tempted to defy US wishes: talks with the Taliban. Inevitably, talks would fail. Fourteen previous agreements between the Pakistani state and the Taliban have, for various reasons, collapsed. But even if they don’t end in lasting agreement, the very process of holding talks could serve a purpose. When the Taliban took over the Swat Valley in 2009, there were a series of negotiations between the jihadis and the state. The Pakistani people saw that a peaceful settlement had been attempted by the army – and that it failed due to Taliban intransigence. It was only then that public opinion swung behind the military offensive that eventually forced the Taliban out of the area. Furthermore, since the US is engaged in talks with the Afghan Taliban just across the border, it would seem difficult for Washington to oppose negotiations. The Pakistan army might object to talks but it is possible that it too might be persuadable if Sharif can convince it he is playing a longer game. The Taliban, though, is unlikely to be one of Sharif’s top priorities. The conflict in the north-west is of limited interest to voters in Sharif’s political heartland – Punjab. And there are signs he wants to concentrate on something else. As soon as he finished watching his win on the election night TV programmes, Sharif spoke to journalists and repeatedly raised one issue above all others – improving relations with India. Sharif sees better relations with Delhi as one of the few quick-fix economic tools at his disposal. Cross-border trade could foster a surge of economic activity. There will, however, be obstacles. Sharif will be up against vested interests in Punjab – many of whom are key backers of his party. There Sharif in talks with former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are both industrial and agricultural producers who would not welcome greater competition. He will also have to overcome the resistance of those in the establishment who would find it difficult to stomach Indian companies being active in Pakistan. The last time Sharif reached out to the Indians in the late 90s, his efforts were derailed by It is all but certain that taxes will continue to be uncollected, the judicial system will still be dysfunctional and schools will remain hopelessly inadequate the Kargil War. The Mumbai attacks played much the same role in undermining Zardari’s attempts to improve relations with Delhi. Another such curveball is a distinct possibility. There are many in India who distrust Sharif. They argue that his peace overtures as Prime Minister last time round were completely contradicted by the decision to send troops over Kashmir’s line of control to occupy the land around Kargil. Sharif argues that he should not be blamed for Kargil as he had no advance knowledge of the operation because the Pakistan army had failed to brief him. Senior army officers have said they did in fact brief Sharif but that his famously short attention span meant that he failed to understand the importance of what he was being told. In an attempt to assuage Delhi’s concerns, Sharif recently told an Indian TV channel that he might hold an enquiry into the decision-making surrounding Kargil. As he must be aware, however, any genuine, transparent investigation would antagonise the army to such a degree that it could very well undermine the current efforts of both sides to establish a stable civil-military relationship for the next five years. Since he last held power, Nawaz Sharif is 14 years older. Millions of Pakistanis are hoping he is wiser too. The ‘new normal’ in Pakistan means politicians are, to a greater extent than ever before, being held to account by judges, journalists and voters. Pakistanis can only hope that, this time, Nawaz Sharif will adjust to these realities and concentrate not on his own wealth and power but on the problems faced by his compatriots. Owen Bennett-Jones has worked with the BBC World Service for over 20 years and he is the author of Target Britain. He is also a frequent visitor to Pakistan and his modern history of the country, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm is in its third edition global thi rd quar ter 2013 www.global -br ief ing.org l 45


Global Issue 15
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