Nawaz Sharif returns to power in Pakistan for the third time. This is a unique development in a country which hasn't seen much of democratic success in 66 years since independence. Does Sharif's return to throne assure India of a better situation on its western frontier?
After all, it was under the Punjab leader that the two neighbours had inked the historic Lahore Declaration in 1999 although what followed afterwards was not good for either of them and the situation was back to square one.
The Indian establishment finds Sharif's return as a positive thing to have happened for the bilateral relation. The political situation in Pakistan was in a shambles since Pervez Musharraf took over as a military dictator and strengthened his grip on the power centre.
After his departure, although a democratic government took over in the country, but it was never free from instability and the perennial threat of terrorism. Corruption ruled the roost and the ruling establishment was busy fighting challenges from other institutions like the judiciary although the army was relatively quiet during this time.
Sharif, who hails from a business family, is also known to be a believer in good relation with India and not hostility, something which makes him look more reliable to New Delhi.
The PML(N) leader's assurance of looking into the role of the ISI in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, reveal the probe evidence of the Kargil conflict of 1999, rein in Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Saeed and curb anti-Indian activities on the soil of his country has made the Indian leadership feel happy.
But politics, we all know, is about rhetoric. Is there anything really to feel elated about Sharif's return to power? The situation has changed from what it was when he had left the scene in October 1999 after being ousted by Musharraf. Is he the same person today and can he really execute what he is promising as post-poll agenda?
Sharif must have learnt from history that diverting from the expected lines when dealing with India can be dangerous.
Sharif's diversion from conservatism made him pay in the past
The man, who had his mentor in former dictator Zia-ul-Haq who was known for his staunch anti-Indian stand, and even initiated conservative domestic programmes like Zia after coming to power for the first time in 1990, annoyed the conservative circles of the country in the late 1990s by trying to establish a good relation with India. His response to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's bus diplomacy did not go well with the army, ISI and religious power centres and Musharraf soon curtailed Sharif's stay in office.
Will Sharif take risk again?
Sharif will remember that the challenges are more threatening in today's Pakistan, where a number of power-centres compete for superiority every moment. It is unlikely that the leader will go revive the call for Aman ki Asha straightaway if he aspires the PML(N) to survive the complete term. New Delhi should also keep that in mind.
Mood in Pakistan isn't very favourable
Analyst Dr Shahid Qureshi writes: "Expression of one sided love for peace and for India would damage his (Sharif) credentials. As Prime Minister he leads 180 million Pakistanis and strong armed forces who will stand behind him in his ‘Recovery and Reconstruction plans'. The Indian sweat talking and meaningless time wasting talks did not get Pakistan anywhere in the past and serve no useful purpose now. India is good at softening targets with Bollywood bombers and its highly professional electronic media which builds credible narrative on the foundation of complete lies. Death of Indian terrorist Serbjit Singh in a Pakistani prison, and brutal killing of a Pakistani prisoner in Jammu Kashmir Indian jail raise question about the peaceful intentions of India. The Indian establishment is under tight and permanent control of a small minority with anti-Pakistan bias...The on-going Indian state terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and its going ahead with building nearly 150 dams in Jammu and Kashmir is much more eloquent testimony of India's real plans - not the song and dance of Aman ki Aasha. Acquiescence to India's never ending negotiations is a betrayal of 100,000 who died in the struggle for the freedom of Kashmir."
Anti-Indianism key for Pak politicians' survival
Sharif knows this more than anybody else. According to senior journalist Jayanta Ghoshal, Sharif had remarked during a meeting with Vajpayee on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Colombo in 1998 that he wanted friendship with India but once the meeting ended, he said the result of the talks was zero. According to the journalist, Sharif had uttered to the Indian counterpart that he has to profess anti-Indianism if he has to survive in Pakistani politics.
Sharif was later forced to declare the Lahore bus diplomacy programme with India under the western influence but he never predicted how disastrous the declaration could prove for himself. Vajpayee was boycotted by military leaders of Pakistan and was also shown black flag by some terror outfits but Sharif ignored these issues thinking it didn't matter for he was in power. But he didn't recognise his own country.
There is no guarantee that a civilian government in Pakistan will cater to India's interests. New Delhi's policy towards Islamabad should be firm and strong. Nawaz Sharifs might present a facade of democracy. Behind, the politics is all the same.