India keeps watch on Pakistan after Sharif resigns

The ouster of Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan and its after-effects are being closely watched in India as New Delhi keeps an eye on who will succeed him and the possibility of heightened adventurism by the Pakistani military.

The government has stayed silent, refraining from even categorising this as an “internal matter”, which is a stock response by the foreign ministry, but the unseating of the Pakistani leader is not a surprise to South Block.

The possibility of political instability deepening in Pakistan cannot be ruled out and, if that happens, India will take on a more defensive posture.

Pakistan watchers point to a long history of Pakistan’s security-intelligence complex using terror to ratchet up tensions and then emphasise the Indian threat — and their own indispensability.

They have played this game for a long time. This time, though, India’s responses may be far tougher. In addition, Pakistan-US ties are coming under strain+ with Washington now building a case against Islamabad’s collusion with terror groups.

Though China is a tested ally and Russia a budding friend, it’s not yet clear how far they will cover for Pakistan. Nawaz’s choice as successor — daughter Maryam, or brother Shahbaz — would not be able to take over until they are made members of the National Assembly.

As Pakistani commentators say, there are very few “sadiq” or “ameen” (honest and upright) leaders the ruling party can turn to with national elections due in 10 months. The party could split and leaders gravitate to Imran Khan’s PTI or Bilawal Bhutto’s PPP, or as former home minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan has been signalling, a rival power centre could come up or another party even.

For PM Narendra Modi, Sharif was once a promise that ceased after Pathankotand Uri terror attacks. India’s Pakistan policy now is best described as benign neglect, officially accompanied by a tougher line on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

To that extent, who takes Sharif’s place is less relevant to India. Pakistan’s economy is more or less in the same place as it was in 2013 when Sharif was elected. He tried to do more on infrastructure, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was started on his watch. Nevertheless, economic management was sorely inadequate.

Pakistan’s continuing problems with terrorism didn’t change, particularly with regard to India. Sharif may have wanted to open up to India but he did nothing to curb terror against India.

So, the question is asked once again: whether India will now deal with the Pakistan army instead of the civilian leadership? First, that is a way away, because the quality of interactions between India and Pakistan are negligible at present.

Second, India has a long history of dealing with the party or person in power, as does China. That is unlikely to change. Third, and possibly the most important, the Pakistan army does not want to be India’s direct interlocutor.

Also, in this current crisis certainly, and in the past few years, the army has preferred to pull the strings from the background, leaving the politicians to be the facade. That is unlikely to change either. (Courtesy Times of India)