India is the talking point as Pakistan gears up for historic elections Wednesday. Unlike the 2013 elections, where India did not figure at all, this time round India is being used to thrash jailed Pakistan Muslim League (PML) leader Nawaz Sharif. And, top contender to the prime ministership, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, is leaving no stone unturned to nail Sharif. In the final stretch before electioneering comes to an end, Khan has fired his last salvo: He has accused Sharif of protecting Indian interests and tarnishing Pakistan’s image by “trying to damage the credibility” of the July 25 elections.
In true sub-continental tradition, at a rally in Karachi, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman evoked the tired old rhetoric of a “big conspiracy against the state of Pakistan” by Sharif and his PML.
Khan brought in the Indian media too, saying, “Even the Indian media is now beating out the narrative that the elections will be rigged”.
The message from Imran Khan is simple. Sharif is an Indian agent and that he e is batting for Modi. He has always taken a stand against the Pakistan armed forces and its institutions. Sharif had claimed that the Pakistani establishment was behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. He also said that India and the international community want a weak government in Pakistan.
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Khan is taking no chances as he sees himself a heartbeat away from the prime ministerial seat.
Sharif’s desire for better relations with India became the whipping horse. A stand backed by the Army that sees Sharif as enemy number one and the only political leader openly critical of the men in uniform. Every move to repair ties with India had been thwarted by Rawalpindi. It began with Lahore Ddeclaration of February 1998, when former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sharif tried to bring in a new turn in ties. When Vajpayee visited Lahore, Musharraf who was the Army Chief refused to greet him on arrival, saying that the chief of Pakistan’s armed forces could not be seen saluting an Indian PM. Instead, the Army Commander was seen entertaining a Chinese military delegation which was in Pakistan at the same time. Without the knowledge of the PM, Musharraf was preparing for Kargil. The rest is history.
Again in 2014, Sharif and Prime Minister Modi attempted to repair ties. On Christmas day, Modi stopped over in Lahore as he was returning from an official visit to Kabul, to greet Sharif on his birthday. It was also the day when Maryam Sharif’s daughter was getting married. The Army was kept out of the loop. The peace initiative was wrecked by the Uri attack, followed by the daring strike on India’s frontline airforce base in Pathankot. Every attempt of the civilian government to cooperate with the investigations was thwarted by the army. Since then
relations between the Army and the civilian government went steadily downhill. The point was that Sharif had dared to entertain Modi without getting the green signal from the GHQ at Rawalpindi. The army had always been the deciding factor in relations with India, US and Afghanistan.
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The civilian government and the army top brass went steadily downhill. In 2016, in an unprecedented move the Sharif government informed the military leadership of growing international isolation of Pakistan and asked for consensus for several key actions to fight terror. Sharif wanted fresh attempts to investigate both the Pathankot terror strikes and fast track the Mumbai attacks which had deliberately been stalled. He spoke of Pakistan’s international isolation for not acting on these cases. This was leaked to the Dawn newspaper. Sharif’s fate was sealed. The army was bent on removing him and ensuring that the door was closed on this man who dared to talk back to the all-powerful men in uniform. The Panama papers gave the Army just what it was looking for.
Once the judiciary passed the sentence against Sharif and Maryam, nobody expected the Sharif’s to return from London where they had gone to visit the ailing Kulsoom. After all, during the Musharraf coup of 1989, Sharif had gone into exile rather than remain in prison. The Saudis worked with Musharraf to get him the reprieve.
Sharif this time round decided to return home and face the consequences. Last Friday, when the father-daughter duo landed in Lahore, a deadly blast in an election rally in Balochistan’s Mastung district killed 128 people. Khan and several others saw this as coincidence.
Modi was perhaps coming to Sharif’s aid. Khan often harped on the Sharif-Nawaz bromance, perhaps with an eye to pleasing GHQ.
The PML leader is being attacked on all fronts and tangoing with India has brought Modi and Delhi to the forefront of Pakistan’s election. In his last public meeting in Karachi, Imran Khan thundered, “He (Nawaz) tried to do this through the Dawn leaks and then by claiming that the Pakistani establishment was behind the Mumbai terror attacks”. At the outset, Imran, the born-again Muslim is the best bet for the Army.