Making the right noises

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Nawaz Sharif to Karan Thapar

Nawaz Sharif’s views on some of the vital domestic and foreign policy issues were aired during his interview with Indian journalist and presenter Karan Thapar. The PML-N chief took an unreservedly straightforward stand on civil-military relations, Pak-India ties, Kashmir, militancy and extremism. While this has led the extremist fringe to launch a fanatical campaign against him on the social media, there is no shortage of people who would in the main agree with his ideas.

While the PML-N chief’s views on civil-military relations are fully in consonance with the constitution, they still remain to be followed in letter and spirit. As in the Musharraf era, military continued to dictate crucial decisions to the PPP-led elected government. Nawaz maintains that the Army is a department of the federal government and therefore the Chief of Army Staff has to implement the policies formulated by the civil administration. Nawaz has politely ruled out any chance of another extension in Kayani’s tenure. He promises to go by the book and promote the next senior most general. Unlike those who advocate yielding to the TTP demands, Nawaz is for a combination of both dialogue and armed intervention to resolve the issue of militancy. The unceasing attacks by the TTP on the civilians and the army have swayed the public opinion against the militants as the Pew Survey conducted in March also indicated. Despite concerns about the drone attacks, the Survey shows 49 per cent describing the Taliban as a “very serious threat” to Pakistan. Regarding anti-India harangues by Hafiz Saeed, Nawaz agrees that none should be allowed to deliver speeches of the type. As the results of the agreement brokered with Mullah Fazlullah in Swat show, engagement with the Pakistani Taliban has little prospects of success. Nawaz wants relations with India back to the February 1999 trajectory marked by the then India prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’ historic visit. Without going into the semantics of the Kashmir issue he thinks the dispute needs to be resolved peacefully to the satisfaction of not only Pakistan and India but also of the Kashmiri people.

Following the enactment of the 18th and 20th amendments, parliamentary democracy stands restored in its true spirit, there is an independent and powerful election commission and a consensus caretaker setup in place for holding the elections. The peaceful transfer of power from one civilian set up to another would be yet another sign of the strengthening of democracy. What is needed now is to make the army subservient to the elected civilian government. Though it was always takes two to tango, the relations with India and Afghanistan also have to be improved. While Nawaz Sharif is yet to be elected to power, the views he has expressed would be hailed by the enlightened sections of the society and strongly opposed by those out of sync with the times. A final judgment will have to wait till one has seen the PML-N’s giving these ideas a concrete shape.