Islamabad, May 23 – Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan Prime Minister who often sings a peace tune but more than often acts in stealth mode against India, may accept the invitation to Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi’s oath-taking ceremony on Monday. And that despite his uneasy relations with the Pakistan Army which, it is widely believed, calls the shots in Pakistan, often overruling the democratically-elected government.
Modi’s invitation to all the SAARC heads of state, including Nawaz Sharif, to attend the oath-taking ceremony, has been construed as his way of signaling a new beginning of regional cooperation in South Asia. However, when it comes to Pakistan, one has to tread with caution. Three major wars, a large-scale conflict, continuous threat of Pakistan based and trained terrorists, and Pakistan’s perpetual desire to keep Kashmir boiling may not help Modi in his diplomatic endeavour.
Despite the peaceniks across the border, the Pakistan Army still considers India as its enemy number one. The recent statement by Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, that Kashmir is a “jugular vein of Pakistan” was a manifestation of a hidden agenda to keep Kashmir on the boil. Sharif’s declared intention of peace with India, therefore, may not go down well with the Army. Add to that the Pakistani fanatics, like Jama’at-ud-Da’wah founder Hafiz Saeed, who spit venom against India all the time, besides exporting terrorists in the name of Islam.
Not surprisingly, anti-India hardliners in Pakistan are shocked with Modi’s victory in India. Saeed has reacted sharply. At a huge rally last week in Lahore, Saeed said, “With people like Modi in power, the conditions are turning very hostile for us to carry on our selfless service.”
Troubled by internal strife and terrorists, Nawaz Sharif has been facing a tough time since January 2014, more so with the relations with Army remaining uneasy. According to Rana Banerjee, ex-special secretary of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, “The civil-military relationship in Pakistan, between PM Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif is uncomfortable, but it hasn’t reached the boiling point yet. There are two contentious issues which are responsible for the unease. One is Nawaz Sharif’s deal with the Taliban even though General Sharif wants a carte blanche to deal with them forcefully. And, the entire Geo TV episode also remains a festering sore.”
Nawaz Sharif, much to the Army’s chagrin, has been negotiating with the Tehriki-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). While the religious hardliners want Sharif to continue to talk with TTP, the Army is unhappy with the negotiations and wants a free hand to hit back hard at the group. Geo TV has been in the news in recent times with its top anchor Hamid Mir seriously injured in an assassination attempt. The Network got into trouble for fusing a qawaali on Prophet’s Mohammad’s daughter with an enactment of actress Veena Malik’s marriage.
The final blow came on Tuesday when the Pakistan Electronic Media Authority banned three Geo TV Network channels, which observers say, is an attempt aimed to appease the Islamic hardliners who are opposed to the Network’s programming. Army too has taken a position on Geo TV, which is contrary to Sharif’s.
In that given backdrop of hardline views, Sharif’s proposed trip to India to attend Modi’s oath-taking event may not become a reality. While Pakistan has informally said that Sharif was ready to come, Delhi is still waiting for a clear answer. There are indications that in the end, he may not attend the ceremony. “Nawaz Sharif may not attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. He knows the Army Generals of Pakistan may not take kindly if he accepts this invitation,” a close aide of Nawaz Sharif told Mail Today on condition of anonymity.
His point was also hinted at by Tasneem Aslam, the spokesperson of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is yet to decide whether to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony or not. However, it is a normal practice that if the head of the government has some pre-occupation, he or she can nominate somebody else to represent,” Aslam told reporters on Thursday.
But even if Sharif comes, will it make any real difference? One must not ignore that Nawaz Sharif is the architect of Pakistan’s covert Kashmir Plan. In fact, a separate cell has been created in the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office to oversee the Kashmir issue. Quite naturally, Modi extending a hand of friendship has evoked reactions across political spectrum in India. The Shiv Sena is strongly opposed to any dialogue with Pakistan. Even the Congress party is also taking pot shots.
Indeed, Sharif, who publicly talks about friendship with India, has cast a shadow of doubt through his own conduct again and again. As part of his anti-India strategy, Pakistani diplomatic missions across the world, especially those in the US, Canada, EU, the UK and Germany, were instructed to raise the bogey of alleged human rights violations (by India) in Kashmir. Sharif’s past record is ghastly.
Within months after the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a historic bus ride to Lahore in 1999, Sharif’s Pakistan inflicted Kargil conflict on India. So, even though Modi’s intention is to use the oath-taking ceremony to send out a message of friendship, he has to realise that the hand on the other side deceived more than often.
Day of speculation in Islamabad over Nawaz’s visit:
High-pitched speculation continued right through the day in Islamabad on whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on Monday.
However, there was no official statement from Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs until Thursday evening. Earlier on Thursday, a spokesperson of Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs confirmed receiving of Modi’s invitation to Nawaz. “The Indian High Commissioner here called on the acting foreign secretary and delivered the invitation.
In Delhi too, all the high commissioners of the SAARC countries were invited to the Foreign Office and the invitation was reiterated there. Whether the PM would attend or not will be decided sometime today,” Tasneem Aslam, spokesperson for Pakistan’s ministry of foreign affairs said.
At home, Nawaz is seen to be facing a tough time since January. The rift between his democratically-elected government and Pakistan’s powerful military, which still holds India as enemy No.1, seems to be widening. Sources said Nawaz may not attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, instead President Hussain would grace the occasion.
“Nawaz may not attend Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. He knows the Generals of Pakistan army may not take kindly if he accepts this invitation,” a close aide of Nawaz told Mail Today on the condition of anonymity.
“It is a normal practice that if the head of the government has some pre-occupations, he/she can nominate somebody else to represent. It is not against protocol and niceties,” Tasneem said.
She hastened to add that Pakistan is interested in having peace with India. “We have expectations that stem from our interest in having peace so that we focus on economic development…,” she said, adding Pakistan expects that when the new government takes over in India, the dialogue process between the country and India will resume and it will be a constructive dialogue.
Modi’s victory in recent elections has sent a shockwave across Pakistani hardliners, including Hafiz Saeed. “With people like Modi in power, the conditions are turning very hostile for us to carry on our selfless service,” said Saeed last week addressing a rally in Lahore.
Nawaz, not very popular with Pakistan’s Generals, is perceived as a great supporter of Pakistan-India friendship. However, there are strong feelings in India that Pakistan had cheated former BJP governments engineering incidents such as Kargil conflict, 2001 Parliament attack and the hijack of Indian Airlines flight IC-814.