Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif’s pro-India remarks were largely welcomed in Pakistan, where most expect that relations will improve with New Delhi in the coming months.
Sharif, who was in Istanbul on a three-day visit, told the Turkish newspaper Zaman that his country will continue to exercise “restraint and responsibility” over recent tensions on the Line of Control in Kashmir and that he would give high priority to good relations with India.
Talat Masood, a defence analyst, said the time is right for taking the army on board. “Within the Pakistani power structure, there is a shift taking place. The army is yielding a lot to the elected leaders. Possibly foreign policy will now change for the better.”
The shift, however, would be slow and painful, warned Ali Ehsan, another defence expert. Ehsan said while it was difficult to arrive at a consensus over better relations with India, “Sharif was best placed in moving ahead given that he had the mandate of the Punjab province.”
Many observers warned over how the civil and military leaderships of Pakistan differ in policy and practice. Ehsan said the visit of Prime Minister Vajpayee and the military adventure in Kargil during the same frame was fresh on the minds of both sides.
“The same can be said of the activities of Hafiz Saeed and how he cannot be kept under control by the elected government,” other analysts said. The issue, said one, was of control within Pakistan. If Sharif was able to take charge of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and also the non-state actors, only then can a peace move be sincere and durable. Mujib-ur Rehman Shami, a senior journalist, argued that no progress can be made with India until Sharif moves on Kashmir.