Shahbaz Sharif — Former PM Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother, current PML-N President, Former CM of Punjab (Pakistan) and the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the general election — while reacting to the meeting between US President, Donald Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, stated that India and Pakistan should seek to emulate both countries, and explore the possibility of resuming dialogue.
Tweeted Shahbaz Sharif: ‘The US and North Korea talks should be a role model for Pakistan and Indian. If they can return from their previous hostile positions of attacking each other, Pakistan and India can also resume composite dialogue,’
Shahbaz, an astute politician and a capable administrator has generally refrained from commenting on India. More so, after his elder brother, had got into trouble after his remarks on the Mumbai attacks In an interview to Dawn, the former PM had said:
‘Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai”.. Why can’t we complete the trial?’
Nawaz Sharif drew flak not just from the National Security Committee (which includes top civil servants and defense officials). NSC issued a statement, saying:
‘The participants observed that it was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities. The participants unanimously rejected the allegations and condemned the fallacious assertions.
Some parliamentarians of the PML-N, also said that Sharif’s remarks were ‘inappropriate’. They had to be assuaged by Shahbaz
What are the precise implications of Shahbaz’s statements at this time?
Shahbaz Sharif’s statement is significant because the Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has sought to extend an olive branch to India via his statements — though the ground situation across the LoC has not witnessed a significant change .
Shahbaz Sharif on his part is seeking to send the signal, that he is all for a better relationship with India, and this will go down well with large sections of the population in Punjab (this includes not just members of Civil Society, but the business community as well). As Chief Minister of Punjab (Pakistan), he had visited India (December 2013), and met with then PM, Dr Manmohan Singh, while also visiting his ancestral village Jatti Umrah in (Punjab, India). Shahbaz had also attended the inauguration of the Integrated Check Post at Attari in April 2012. Shahbaz has sought to strengthen people to people as well as economic ties with Indian Punjab.
In 2017, when both Punjab’s and North India was engulfed in smog, Shahbaz had also written to his counterpart in Indian Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, seeking a mechanism to tackle the issue of smog, as well as environmental pollution. Said Sharif, ‘..Let us join hands for securing a prosperous future for the people of our two provinces,”
At the same time, in his recent tweet, Shahbaz also raised the Kashmir issue, and does not want to appear excessively soft or a ‘sell-out’. Especially, vis-à-vis the hardliners and the military. Shahbaz Sharif had tweeted:
‘If the United States and North Korea can return from the brink of a nuclear flashpoint, there is no reason why Pakistan and India cannot do the same, beginning with a dialogue on Kashmir whose heroic people have resisted and rejected Indian occupation.
In April 2018, at a rally Shahbaz had raised the Kashmir issue, saying ‘..we will make Kashmir part of Pakistan,”
Fourth, Shahbaz wants to ensure, that the PML-N sets the agenda of the election campaign with this statement he has also ensured, that PTI will need to make its stance on ties with India clear
Mixed signals from Imran Khan
Imran Khan has so far given mixed signals, on many issues including ties with India. Khan has attacked Sharif’s for being soft on the Kashmir issue, and stated that he will be far more vocal and raise the issue on International Forums. At a rally in 2016, the Pakistan-Tehreek-E-Insaaf PTI Chief and former cricketer stated:
“Human rights are being trampled in Kashmir…And no matter what, we will support Kashmiris morally and politically.
Imran Khan also accused Sharif of having a close rapport with Modi and bartering away Pakistan’s interests in the process. The PTI Chief has also sought an enquiry into Nawaz Sharif’s ‘business interests’ in India on more than one occasion.
On the other hand on occasions, Khan has spoken about the need for improving India-Pakistan ties. Interestingly, during a visit to India in December 2015, Imran had called on Modi, and claimed to have had a constructive conversation on bilateral issues.
What is clearly evident is that Shahbaz, a consummate politician, will essentially follow his brother’s approach of wanting to improve ties with India, while not ruffling feathers with the Pakistan army. Shahbaz, also wants to send a message to both the opposition (especially the PTI) and the establishment (Pakistan military and ISI). While the message to the PTI, is that he will not allow it to set the agenda for the election. To the establishment, Shahbaz Sharif’s message is that he is ready to work with them, but will not play second fiddle.