Mian Nawaz Sharif will be sworn-in later this week for a record third time as prime minister of Pakistan fuelling hopes of an economic recovery and better relations with neighbours, including India and China.
However, on the key issue of drone attacks and Pakistan’s war with militants, particularly the Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP), Sharif is keeping his cards close to his chest, with insiders predicting that he will handle the foreign affairs and defence portfolios himself so as not to create any unwanted ripples.
He has said that on the issue of fighting terrorism, he wants to take all parties along.
But last week’s drone attack which killed the Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan’s number two man has already put Sharif in a tight corner. He is already under attack from different quarters. The TTP says it will not talk to him anymore.
Other parties say that he is going soft on drone strikes. For his part, Sharif said that he was disappointed with the attack and that there should be a national consensus on drone attacks.
Sensing his unsure approach, the newly-elected chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Pervaiz Khattak said that had his party been in the center “such attacks would not have taken place.” But it is not as simple as that.
The problem, say observers, are not just the drone attacks but the army’s support of them. “The US works in close coordination with the military high command,” comments Aisha Siddiqa, a defence analyst. Drone attacks for the army mean that high profile targets are attacked without its personnel getting involved.
But the army has been playing a double game. In the past, during the post-Osama situation, the Pakistan air chief told the media that they were capable of shooting down the drones “but this decision is that of the political leadership.”
Observers say that they dont want to bear the brunt of the fallout. For that, they expect the political leadership to take the fall.
Possibly that may change. Sharif has already said that it wants the army listening to the prime minister. This is a lesson he has learnt from his previous tenure when in 1999 then General Musharraf ordered a military operation in Kargil of which Sharif says he had no knowledge.
Now he has said that he will order a commission to investigate what happened in Kargil so that he can clear his name.
Musharraf himself is a cause for more headaches. On the one hand, there is speculation that the military leadership wants him flown out and on the other hand, Sharif says that the former military strongman must face the music.
So far, Musharraf is being kept under house arrest at his luxury farmhouse on the outskirts of Islamabad.
A lot will depend on Sharif’s relations with the military and on how he performs in the coming five years.
This includes the prickly issue of drone strikes and the fate of Musharraf. In this, they say, he will need all the support that he can get from the US administration.
It may be a tall order but Sharif says that he has learnt from his past mistakes and is ready to take everyone along in the coming months.