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M K Bhadrakumar |

The Pakistani scenario, following the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has three important dimensions.

One, will Pakistan descend into violence and chaos?
The answer is a resounding ‘No’. There is great turbulence but that is going to play out in the corridors of power and as party politics.

Much depends on the ability of the successor government led by Sharif’s brother Shahbaz Sharif to hold on to power till the government’s term ends in June next year. If it can – and why not? – PML(N) would have a fighting chance of even winning the election or at least emerging as the single biggest party. Again, do not just write off Nawaz Sharif. An unfair thing has been done to him, and Nawaz is a fighter with a record of rising from the ashes like a Phoenix.

Pakistan and India are getting into election mood. In India, elections are due only in early 2019, but an early poll cannot be ruled out. If PM Narendra Modi returns to power, his priorities may change in favor of creating a legacy as a peacemaker. It seems too much to hope for, but politicians can change.

Shahbaz Sharif is a level-headed politician and a competent administrator. He knows how to forge a working relationship with the army leadership. The danger lies in the PML (N) unraveling. A weakening of the PML (N) serves many interest groups. However, on balance, the party will stick together since it is in power in both Islamabad and Lahore.

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Secondly, what are the prospects for India-Pakistan relations?
In a nutshell, no big change need be expected. The military will continue to dominate the India policy and strive to manage it on the present track. It really didn’t matter that Sharif was in favor of normalization with India, isn’t it?

Pakistan and India are getting into election mood. In India, elections are due only in early 2019, but an early poll cannot be ruled out. If PM Narendra Modi returns to power, his priorities may change in favor of creating a legacy as a peacemaker. It seems too much to hope for, but politicians can change.

A tantalizing question will be: What if Modi gets a renewed mandate and would have Imran Khan as counterpart? There is much in common between them –demagoguery, charisma, immodesty (or audacity) and mass appeal. To my mind, Imran Khan is probably the only Pakistani politician today who can significantly contribute to relations with India. He is quintessentially cosmopolitan in outlook. But then, what suits the military would be a ‘khichdi’ where the politicians are busy with their shenanigans while Rawalpindi drives national policies.

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Finally, what about Pakistan’s two pivotal relationships – China and the US?
Clearly, the all-weather friendship with China will be unaffected. The CPEC will remain on track.

“Absolutely. I mean this is from New Delhi to Tehran when we talk about South Asia and a critical element of our strategy in the region has to be Pakistan. And we cannot be successful in Afghanistan — we’ve seen that over the last several years — unless we have a higher degree of cooperation from Pakistan. So Pakistan is absolutely an integral part of the strategic review that’s ongoing. ”

However, US-Pakistan relations are evolving. The timing does seem odd that on the eve of Nawaz Sharif’s exit, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford made a big overture to the military leadership in Pakistan. At the Aspen conference at Colorado on Sunday, when asked about the Trump administration’s policy review on Pakistan, he said:

  • “Absolutely. I mean this is from New Delhi to Tehran when we talk about South Asia and a critical element of our strategy in the region has to be Pakistan. And we cannot be successful in Afghanistan — we’ve seen that over the last several years — unless we have a higher degree of cooperation from Pakistan. So Pakistan is absolutely an integral part of the strategic review that’s ongoing. ”

Washington is looking at time future. Indeed, it is no small comfort to Washington that the Pakistani military is in total control of the power dynamic in Islamabad at a critical juncture when the Trump administration is finalizing the new Afghan strategy.

Did he have to go that far?  It all depends on how far the US anticipated the turn of events in Pakistan. This is what the New York Times’ redoubtable Helene Cooper reports:

  • The resignation of Nawaz Sharif…raised eyebrows at the State Department and the Pentagon, but little else…For some in American security circles, that is a relief… General Bajwa is well known to American diplomats and defense officials. He met this week with [US Commander in Afghanistan] General John W. Nicholson… and [US ambassador to Pakistan] David Hale.

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Washington is looking at future. Indeed, it is no small comfort to Washington that the Pakistani military is in total control of the power dynamic in Islamabad at a critical juncture when the Trump administration is finalizing the new Afghan strategy. To my mind, Dunford’s remarks hinted that the Lisa Curtis-Hussain Haqqani line – ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb Pakistan’ – has no takers in the Pentagon. Since the adults in the Trump administration are almost entirely generals, the alchemy of US-Pakistan ties should significantly improve.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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