The fledgling democratic process in
Pakistan has churned out a leader, who now has the rare
opportunity to chart a new positive and peaceful course, not only
for his own country but for the whole South Asia region, and leave
a legacy that, so far, no other Pakistani leader has.
Nawaz Sharif must use the proverbial "third chance" - he was prime
minister twice before but never completed his full term - to break
the vicious cycle of revenge in domestic politics and the
unnecessary cycle of rivalry with India in its regional politics.
It will not be easy and will be full of challenges, but eventually
it will make him rise as a great Pakistani leader who genuinely
wants to bring peace and prosperity to his country and the whole
region, perhaps more than even Indian leaders.
He should shun the well travelled Pakistani road of taking revenge
in politics, known as 'siaasat' (in Urdu) and take a high road as
far as his ouster from power in 1999 by then military chief Pervez
Musharraf is concerned. He might be tempted to settle that issue
in Pakistan's traditional way of taking revenge, but how Sharif
deals with his old foe will be a measure of the change he claims
Sharif must realise that the country's democratic institutions,
such as judiciary and free press, have matured over the past five
years and that is evident from the fact that Musharraf is in jail
for his actions. There is hope because, until now, the idea of a
mere judge ordering a former army chief into confinement was
unthinkable. He must also realise that changing the civil-military
balance in favour of the civilians would be ideal, but if it is
done without cautious planning, it could jeopardise the democratic
gains of the last several years.
Sharif should also try to bring, as he already said, every other
party to the table and work together for improving the plight of
the average Pakistani. It is up to him to bring the country out of
the abysmal chasm of hopelessness and despair. His victory being
based on his party's popularity in the Punjab province, Sharif now
will also have to reach out to the leaders of other provinces.
Sharif must now also deal very cautiously with President Asif Ali
Zardari and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, both of whom will be
out of their offices by the end of this year, giving him a chance
to appoint his supporters.
About improving relations with India, he has already indicated
during his interviews that the two sides must restart back channel
diplomacy to resolve problems while sticking to the stated
positions in public. Sharif has publicly stated his intention to
pick up the threads of the peace process he initiated with Indian
leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999. That process was undermined
by the Kargil war. According to one senior official of the PPP,
Sharif will have a tough time changing Pakistan's posture towards
India and Afghanistan. It is something that the establishment did
not allow even the PPP-led coalition to pursue.
But if there is any issue on which bitter political rivals agree,
it is on improving trade relations with India in view of its fast
growing economy and the burgeoning market. Sharif, in fact, has
always been supportive of granting India most-favoured-nation (MFN)
status. His comfortable position in parliament should allow his
party to push forth with this agenda. But it will not be easy
because of the forces within Pakistan that have always succeeded
in ratcheting up the anti-India rhetoric when it suits them.
So the new leader should make the issue of improving trade
relations with India a part of a bigger plan, a plan to develop a
flourishing "transit economy" for the country.
He must revisit the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement
2010 to allow India to send goods to Afghanistan and beyond
through Pakistan. He must convince his rivals that the country can
really have a flourishing transit economy because it provides the
shortest land routes from Western China to the Arabian Sea,
through the Gwadar Port, while linking India with Afghanistan and
the Central Asian Republics and providing land route from Iran to
The transit economy idea can be crucial for Nawaz Sharif because
he might have to find new ways to compensate for the US aid worth
millions of dollars that might stop because of his objections to
the country`s support to the US war on terror. However, the view
in the power corridors of Washington is that since his priorities
are really economic, he will not upset the apple cart and will
have enough reasons and incentive to keep the one billion dollars
a year aid from the US flowing into Pakistan.
Ravi M. Khanna is a longtime observer of the South
Asia scene and has covered the region for Voice of America as the
New Delhi Bureau Chief and also as the South Asia Desk Editor in
Washington from 1980 to 2011. He can be reached at email@example.com