As Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif prepares to have his first-ever summit talks with President Barrack Obama Wednesday, U.S. scholars believe that he was handed down a carefully worded script to follow the military’s stance on foreign policy, defense and terrorism.
Even though Sharif in his speech at the United States Institute for Peace, next door to the U.S. State Department, Tuesday said U.S. drone strikes have infuriated his countrymen and was the thorniest issue in promoting Pakistan-U.S. bilateral relations, U.S. analysts say it was naive to think these strikes will end anytime soon.
“He was not saying a single word more than what he was asked to say,” Frederic Grare, South Asia program director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told this correspondent Tuesday after attending Mr. Sharif’s speech at the U.S.I.P. Mr. Grare also alluded to the meetings Mr. Sharif had with the military leaders in preparation for his U.S. visit.
However, Mr. Grare said “Mr. Sharif has had a very uneasy relationship with the military.”
Recalling that Mr. Sharif was twice sacked by the army, he credited him for being the only prime minister in Pakistan who sacked two sitting army chiefs. “The first was Jehangir Karamat, who was a darling in Washington DC. The second was General Pervez Musharraf.”
However, the sacking of Musharraf resulted in the toppling of Sharif’s second government in October 1999.
Noted Pakistani book author and university scholar from Harvard and New York universities, Arif Jamal believes that Sharif’s call for international mediation on Kashmir was the well-established, stated position of the Pakistan army to internationalize the Kashmir issue.
“This is not the Sharif position that he enunciated at the time of the Lahore Declaration in 1999,” said Arif Jamal, whose book new academic book Call for Transnational Jihad: Lashkar-e-Taiba 1985-2014 is scheduled to be unveiled in January.
The Lahore Declaration, which was signed by Mr. Sharif and his Indian counterpart, A.B. Vajpayee on February 21, 1999, stated that the two South Asian neighbors will seek to end all disputes though bilateral talks.
“He is clearly following the army point of view on India and Kashmir,” Arif Jamal, who is a rare critic of army rule to hail from the army stronghold of Punjab, said. “It seems like he’s not going to antagonize the army on major foreign policy issues such as India, Afghanistan, the U.S. and terrorism.”
To a question on what good can Pakistan expect from the Sharif visit, Arif Jamal said, “Basically Pakistan will get U.S. aid but nothing else.”
One major demand on Sharif’s laundry list includes an end to the U.S. drone strikes operated directly by the C.I.A. against Taliban and al Qaeda militants, but Arif Jamal said this is not going to stop anytime time soon. “America will use the drones if there is a legitimate target,” he said.
“Drones may not be the best option but the reality is they are the most effective weapon against the Islamic militants,” Arif Jamal said. “Drones are the only weapon the Taliban are afraid of.”
He said General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has on record said Pakistan army is not ready for military offensive against the Taliban. “The U.S. has told Pakistan, either you do the job or let us do it.”
Many Pakistanis believe Sharif was a protégé and product of the martial law regime of General Ziaul Haq, just like his more popular predecessor Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a protégé and product of the martial law regime of General Ayub Khan.
Frederic Grare said he always wondered why people like Sharif, who is a wealthy businessman, join politics in Pakistan. “If he stays away from politics, at least his life would be safer.”
©Mustikhan News Syndicate
Video link, Courtesy USIP: