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ISLAMABAD — The election of Nawaz Sharif as Pakistani prime minister may bode well for a wider détente with India, but dealing with the Taliban insurgency and relations with the military are uncertain, analysts said.
Salma Malik, an assistant professor in the Department of Defence & Strategic Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University here, said that before the election, Sharif had been “courting radical elements, hosting them in Lahore,” and appearing to adopt a rightist ideology.
But the outlook for Sharif, who was overthrown in a 1999 military coup, is not so simple, Malik said.
“We must be reminded of the fact that he’s the same leader who had at one time launched an anti-militancy crackdown, established [toothless] anti-terrorist courts and faced bomb attacks as a result, which claimed the lives of many of his allies, kith and kin,” she said.
Nevertheless, she said, “staying in opposition has made it very easy for [Sharif] to flirt with militants” for political expediency, “but how he will manage these elements once in power is anyone’s guess.”
While securing a bailout from the International Monetary Fund is a priority for Sharif, Malik said that improving the security situation in Pakistan “means either locking horns with militants or appeasing them,” which could go counter to the demands of military operations and US interests.
Sharif has said, most recently to the BBC, that he will facilitate the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, but dodged questions about maintaining pressure on the Taliban.
Great uncertainty remains regarding Afghanistan over the next 12 months, Malik said, when Sharif will have to handle the “massive readjustments at all levels, internally and externally.”
Much, therefore, depends on his relationship with Pakistan’s military, which hopes economic recovery will resuscitate its stalled modernization efforts.
Analyst Haris Khan, of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank, said that even in the unlikely event of an economic boost, “it will take about two years before one can see sustainable positive revenues.”
Nevertheless, he said the military will want to see progress with the J-10B/FC-20 fighter jet, submarines and warships, and defense cooperation with China, Turkey and Ukraine.
The April visit of Lt. Gen. Viktor Nikolayevich Bondarev, commander in chief of the Russian Air Force, could indicate a Russian jet engine deal to power the FC-20.
However, the “Chinese want some type of assurance that if they give Pakistan some soft loans, [Pakistan] can provide some type of collateral for these loans,” Khan said. “The first batch of 36 FC-20/J-10B was estimated at [US] $1.9 billion plus.”
Though economic recovery is widely expected, Brian Cloughley, a former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, said Sharif is known to harbor grudges, and his relationship with the military is not expected to be comfortable.
Cloughley, however, said he is more optimistic regarding reduced tensions with archrival India.
“There is still a possibility of rapprochement with India,” he said.