Pakistan’s political crisis is full of unexpected twists and turns. India is keeping a close eye on Shehbaz Sharif, who is expected to become Pakistan’s next prime minister. Imran Khan was seen as more hawkish toward India, and his relationship with Pakistan suffered as a result of his constant mention of Kashmir. Although Sharif mentioned Kashmir, experts believe that the two countries can work toward a more constructive bilateral relationship.
“National harmony is my top priority.” “We want peace with India, but peace will not be possible unless the Kashmir issue is resolved,” said the president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, who has been nominated by the Opposition for the position of Prime Minister.
While Kashmir will remain a source of contention, New Delhi is hopeful that Sharif’s appointment will result in improved diplomatic relations.
Shehbaz Sharif: A more tolerant leader
For starters, Pakistan’s 70-year-old leader has shown more tolerance toward minorities and has not taken a harsh stance toward India. “Our diversity is our greatest strength,” he tweeted during Holi, wishing Hindus in Pakistan a happy festival. Pakistan belongs to all of its citizens, regardless of caste, creed, or skin color. May the day bring everyone peace and happiness.”
Sharif has previously spoken out against attacks on Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian minorities, demonstrating a more tolerant approach. This is in contrast to Imran Khan’s rule, during which Pakistan’s religious freedom continued to dwindle.
Is the cease-fire going to last?
Imran Khan is said to have lost the support of Pakistan’s powerful military, indicating that the army still has a say in who gets the top job in the country. Sharif, the brother of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is said to have strong military ties.
“Shehbaz Sharif has a closer relationship with the military than any other top Pakistani opposition leader,” Michael Kugleman, senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington, told ThePrint. “By avoiding confrontational positions toward the military and staying above the fray, he has earned the title of a favorite son.”
It helps that Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is thought to have been hand-picked by Nawaz Sharif for his “pro-democracy views.” Since last February, Pakistan’s military has been in support of the ceasefire along the Line of Control and has kept its word.
Bajwa, who is serving his second three-year term, recently stated that he wants good relations with India because “Pakistan will benefit if we improve ties with India.” He also stated that the army is willing to resume peace talks with India, including discussions about Kashmir. If Sharif and the army are on the same page, it will help to improve relations with India. “Now is the time for India and Pakistan to move on.” Let us sit down and talk about our problems, including Kashmir… “First and foremost, we want development,” Bajwa reportedly said at the Islamabad Security Dialogue on April 1 and 2.
With an eye on the future
Sharif is also regarded as a leader who is pro-development. During his time as the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, he was a business-friendly administrator who pushed for ambitious infrastructure projects. Improving ties with India will aid Pakistan’s development agenda and give the country’s ailing economy a much-needed boost.
Shehbaz Sharif, as the chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province, worked to strengthen people-to-people and economic ties with our province while maintaining an open line of communication. When both Punjab and northern India were experiencing smog problems in 2017, Shehbaz Sharif wrote to his counterpart, Captain Amarinder Singh, seeking a solution, according to The Diplomat. “Let us join hands to ensure a prosperous future for our two provinces’ people,” he wrote.
Improving business relationships
The Sharif family has long advocated for bettering relations with India. Shehbaz Sharif is a part-owner of the steel conglomerate Ittefaq group, and Nawaz Sharif is said to have close ties with India’s steel magnate Sajjan Jindal. According to The New Indian Express, Pakistan experts believe that a joint venture between India and Pakistan is possible.
Shehbaz Sharif met then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, visited his ancestral village Jatti Umrah in Punjab, and met with then-Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal during his visit to India in 2013. According to a report in The Indian Express, he visited Metro stations and solid waste management plants in Delhi, as well as a power plant in Haryana.
“War is not an option,” Shehbaz said while interacting with journalists during his visit. According to the newspaper, he supports the resumption of “peaceful dialogue” on all issues, including “Sir Creek, Siachen, water, and Kashmir.” As a result of Shehbaz Sharif’s solution-oriented approach, the India-Pakistan relationship may see some improvement.