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We want peace with India however it’s not achievable without resolution of Kashmir challenge: Shehbaz Sharif

Shehbaz Sharif

Before taking over as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif stated that he wished for peace in the country. “We desire peace with India, but peace cannot be achieved unless the Kashmir issue is resolved,” he said.

The Indian government is cautiously optimistic that relations between the two neighboring countries will improve in the coming months, with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shehbaz Sharif tipped to take over as Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Monday after the National Assembly formally elects him. Observers in New Delhi believe Mr. Shehbaz Sharif will be careful in his dealings with India, given his political competitor, former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aggressive stance on the Kashmir issue over the last three years. On Sunday, Mr. Sharif brought up the Kashmir issue, saying that while Pakistan wants peace with India, long-term peace is impossible without resolving the Kashmir issue.

Sharif announced his candidacy for Prime Minister on Sunday, following the unceremonious ousting of Imran Khan, who has urged his supporters to take to the streets in protest of an “imported government.” The process of electing a new Leader of the House began on Sunday after Mr Khan was ousted from office following a no-confidence vote, making him the first Prime Minister in Pakistan’s history to be sent home after losing the House’s confidence.

Shehbaz Sharif, 70, was nominated for Prime Minister by the unified Opposition, which included socialist, liberal, and profoundly religious parties. At the same time, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chose ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi as its candidate.  At a joint Opposition gathering, former President and Pakistan People’s Party co-chair Asif Ali Zaradri suggested Mr. Shehbaz Sharif for Prime Minister. According to reports, Mr. Zardari’s son and prominent PPP politician Bilawal Bhutto are expected to be named the new foreign minister.

Suppose the new government in Islamabad decides to test the ground. In that case, the resumption of both trade links and complete diplomatic contacts at the level of high commissioners is expected to be the critical signal. Mr. Sharif is said to enjoy the support of Pakistan’s formidable military, which in February last year successfully established a truce with Indian forces along the Line of Control.

Mr. Sharif, who previously served as chief minister of Pakistan’s most populous and politically significant province of Punjab, is also seen as an exceptionally effective administrator and pragmatist. Their priority will be to rebuild Pakistan’s faltering economy. He is the younger brother of former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, however, unlike his older brother, who is now living in exile in London, Shehbaz Sharif is seen as trustworthy by the military establishment. Interestingly, Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, whose second three-year tenure ends later this year, recently struck a conciliatory tone publicly about relations with India and resolving the Kashmir issue through discussion.

Since the Indian and Pakistani armies implemented a ceasefire along the Line of Control in February last year, which has been successfully maintained thus far, there has been hope that political ties would improve, given the widespread perception that the Pakistan Army was in favor of continuing the momentum and improving relations with India. But that did not materialize because the Imran Khan government refused to negotiate with India. Instead, it preconditions that New Delhi first reverses its August 2019 decision to revoke Article 370, which granted Jammu and Kashmir special protection status. New Delhi saw the Pakistan government’s demand as untenable, as many in Pakistan urged for the reopening of trade connections with India, which had been hindered since August 2019.

It should also be noted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid an unexpected but quick visit to Lahore in December 2015, while Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister, and was seen to have an excellent rapport with him. Nawaz Sharif was then compelled to resign as Prime Minister and relocated to London for medical treatment. Given the rapid political events in Islamabad on Saturday night, New Delhi keeps a close eye on the situation.

It will be a tremendous challenge for Shehbaz Sharif to shepherd the motley herd, which includes four Independents, and allow Parliament to complete its five-year term, which expires in August 2023. Before submitting his candidacy, he expressed “particular gratitude” to those who fought “for the Constitution.” He went on to say, while speaking before the National Assembly on Sunday, “I don’t want to return to the bitterness of the past.” We want to forget about them and go on. We will not exact vengeance or inflict injustice; we will not imprison anyone for no reason; law and justice will take their course.” Before taking office as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Shahbaz Sharif stated that he wishes for unity in the country. “We want peace with India, but peace cannot be achieved unless the Kashmir issue is resolved,” he said.

My first precedence is nationwide concord. We need peace with India, however, peace will not be doable without the resolution of the Kashmir challenge, Prime Minister-designate Shehbaz Sharif was quoted as saying by Pakistani media. According to the sources, Shehbaz Sharif additionally stated that the brand new cabinet can be shaped in session with the opposition leaders.

“I will usher in a new era in the country and encourage mutual respect,” Shehbaz Sharif said, adding that he would try to help the people by improving the country’s economy, according to Pakistani media. In response to a question about Nawaz Sharif’s return and case, Shehbaz Sharif replied that his case can be handled in accordance with the law.

Meanwhile, a case has been filed in the Islamabad High Court to ban Imran Khan and his former ministers from leaving the country. The court will hear the petition on Monday. The Federal Investigation Agency has placed its immigration staff on high alert at all international airports, with a mandate to prevent any official associated with the Imran Khan government from traveling overseas without a no-objection certificate.

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