Problems mount for Nawaz Sharif | Pakistan Today

Problems mount for Nawaz Sharif

Thursday was a bad day for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He was getting ready to return home from a trip to the United States, during which he failed to get Washington to even consider the issue of drone strikes in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), according to a STRATFOR report.
On the same day, Indian PM Manmohan Singh said that he is disappointed with his Pakistani counterpart for not doing enough to end the clashes between Pakistani and Indian forces along their disputed border in Kashmir. The Pakistani prime minister is thus coming home to more problems than he left behind.
Within hours of Nawaz Sharif’s October 23 meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House, where he ostensibly called for an end to drone strikes in his country, The Washington Post, citing leaked highly sensitive CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos, reported that Islamabad had been secretly endorsing the drone strikes. The leaks were designed not only as a rejoinder to Nawaz Sharif’s demand but also in response to the Amnesty International report released a day before the meeting claiming that the airstrikes had led to many civilian deaths.
Nawaz, whose party was elected in early May, has long promised the Pakistani public that he will work toward bringing an end to the drone strikes. In fact, before leaving for the United States he explicitly said that he would raise the issue with Obama. That much he did – in the hopes that he would be able to show his constituents back home that he is honoring his commitment to bring an end to what a majority of Pakistanis believe is a violation of their national sovereignty.
Nawaz had hoped that Obama would respond with a statement to the effect that Washington would work with Islamabad to eventually get to a point where the US would not have to conduct the strikes. Not only did Obama say nothing of the sort, the leak to The Washington Post was meant as a signal to Islamabad to back off from the issue. After all, if Islamabad has lost control of its territory to the extent that transnational jihadists have sanctuary, then Washington has to continue with the drone strikes, especially in a country in which the use of regular land and air forces is not in the American interest. The net effect is that Nawaz Sharif’s trip was a failure – in fact, the leak has further complicated US-Pakistani relations.
In fairness to the Nawaz administration, Islamabad endorsed and supported the drone programme during administrations that predated Nawaz: Pervez Musharraf’s military regime from 1999 to 2008 and the Pakistan People’s Party government from 2008 to 2013. Sharif will undoubtedly try to deflect criticism by saying that his government inherited the problem. But the fact is that the drone issue (along with the multitude of others problems plaguing the country) is now his problem, and he will be under increasing pressure to do something about it.
The only way Nawaz could get Washington to end the strikes would be ordering a major military offensive in North Waziristan, the hub for an array of domestic and foreign jihadist forces. Doing so would be extremely problematic, given that he is pursuing a policy of negotiations with the country’s Taliban. At the same time that Nawaz struggles with the US regarding Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan, he has a fresh problem on the eastern border with India, where Pakistani and Indian forces have for months been engaged in the most severe clashes in a decade.
The situation has come to a point where the Indian prime minister has called on Nawaz to “even at this late hour” recognize that the conflict on the border is not good for either side. Singh has his own pressures to deal with given the infiltration of large numbers of militants from Azad Kashmir to the Indian side, especially with the Indian elections only six months away and Singh’s ruling Congress Party locked in a heated battle with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. New Delhi therefore has to escalate matters, which even if it is only at the rhetorical level could aggravate tensions. This is especially the case for Sharif, who has been pushing for improved relations with India and cannot afford to be seen as weak toward the Indians in the current situation.
The Pakistani government already had a lot to deal with domestically, including the deteriorating security situation, a stalling economy and an energy crisis. Now it must also focus on dealing with the simultaneous problems with the US and India.

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