Can Nawaz Sharif salvage his legacy by normalising relations with India and the economic alleviation stemming from it?

Published: August 11, 2017

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shakes hands with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi during the closing session of the 18th SAARC summit. PHOTO: AFP

The battle lines have been drawn. Nawaz is out flaunting his muscles on the street, and his choice seems clear – defiance over acquiescence. But to what end?

One possibility is that the power play is simply intended to gain political leverage and bargain relief from those the former prime minster (PM) feels have vindictively disarmed him. But two factors refute this theory – Khawaja Asif and Mushahidullah Khan.

We all know the perversity with which Asif is viewed within the General Headquarters (GHQ), and the comments that led Khan to be scapegoated and removed from his ministry. The appointment of the two into the cabinet clearly betrays a larger agenda on hand, a defiant thrust for civilian supremacy. And perhaps we were just fools to expect anything but. The disqualification of Nawaz on July 28th has instilled newfound impetuous within the former PM who is now consolidating control on two fronts – the streets and the Parliament.

It seems that the amalgamation of the two, a potent mixture and one seldom incorporated before, is being nurtured to provide enough capital to push through invidious policy decisions and secure a lasting legacy for the thrice incumbent and now thrice humiliated head of state.

But what legacy is the elder Sharif trying to secure? Besides metros and motorways, what does Nawaz really have, or want to give? The truth is, no amount of infrastructure development will contravene the memory of three unfinished tenures ending unceremoniously on charges of corruption – charges that happened to be quite convincing as well, at least on the latest occasion. For now, that seems set to be his lasting legacy.

However, Nawaz has always had something else up his sleeve, something he had always wanted to implement, something that was intended to define his era and usher an epoch of economic upheaval and prosperity. That something was India.

Over the past two decades, India’s emergence as one of the strongest economies in the world has prompted the appearance of an alternative school of thought within sections of the Pakistani intelligentsia regarding how the country should deal with its neighbour.

Members of this camp promulgate a new and pragmatic approach towards India, and a break from the Kashmir-centric policies of the past. The assertion is that being the status-quo power in the region with a larger economy and greater military strength, India has no reason whatsoever to compromise on major points of contention such as Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek. Thus, beating the drum on said topics does not only fail to bear any fruit, but its greater impact of further empowering the right-wing forces in India, due to the perpetual tension between the states, makes it highly counterproductive. It is more prudent then to place these more incendiary issues on the backburner for the time being, whilst making trade and normalising relations a priority.

In this regard, the Sino-Indian equation is presented as an appropriate blue print. The two countries share a boundary dispute as old as Pakistan itself, a dispute that incubated armed confrontation in 1962. Even today, soldiers from either nation stand eyeball to eyeball in the Bhutanese region of Sikkim, essentially on the verge of another conflict.

Despite the vitriolic nature of the relationship, however, a strict dichotomy between territorial disputes and economic cooperation has been maintained. Today, the trade value between India and China is estimated at a staggering $70 billion, and that figure is expected to rise. On the contrary, bilateral trade between Pakistan and India is valued at a meagre $2.7 billion. The rigid policy of seeing India through a Kashmir-only lens has ossified economic cooperation, leading South Asia to be one of the least integrated regions in the world.

A bilateral study commissioned by the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) elucidates the colossal potential for commerce between the two countries, stating that trade could reach $11 billion if relations were to normalise. Furthermore, studies show that Pakistan’s GDP could see a 2% surge in merely three years as a result. To put that into context, GDP since 2013 has grown between 1.5 to 2 %, depending on which estimates you want to believe. Normalising trade relations would have then doubled growth during the said period, making Pakistan one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Simply put, the exposition encourages a shift away from a security-based foreign policy approach towards a more holistic economic one. Most of those who envisage it now see Kashmir as a lost cause. Others consider their proposed approach as a long-term means of eventually achieving a favourable resolution in Kashmir, by integrating the sub-continental economies together and gaining some leverage over the presently ascendant India.

Whichever one of these sub-groups Nawaz belongs to remains unclear. Yet his core affinity with the general tenements of the aforementioned school of thought is now undeniable. The infamous Ufa declaration serves as a perfect example of this, where Kashmir was evidently left out of the joint deceleration. The eagerness exhibited to attend Narendra Modi’s inauguration in 2014 and several other overtures made towards India during his past two tenures, despite the annoyance of the establishment, further back the claim that Nawaz sees the normalising of relations with India and the economic alleviation stemming from it as the means of salvaging his legacy.

Unfortunately for Nawaz, whilst opinion makers in the media and intelligentsia largely promoted economic rapprochement and the average voter no longer found appeal in the anti-India rhetoric, the most important stakeholders in the Pakistani establishment remained uneasy with such a radical change in the nature of Pakistan’s foreign policy alignment. And so when the first dharna truncated the then PM’s political capital in 2014, he was forced to relinquish the reigns of his foreign policy to the GHQ and abandon pursuit of his reformist agenda.

Now, Nawaz has been provoked back into action. No longer confined by the restraints of premiership and fear of losing his seat, Nawaz has installed a foreign minister that is emblematic of his desire to steer the ship in his own direction. Of course, the whole move is just a petty gesture to irk the boys in Pindi. But one hopes that there is more substance to it than that, and a last ditch attempt is made to salvage some foreign policy space for the civilians.

It remains a mammoth task, what with the limited diplomatic experience the new foreign minister possesses and the fight for survival the PML-N leadership finds itself in now. Added to the mix is the jingoist right-wing regime currently incumbent in India which does not seem to be a reconciliatory mood. But stranger things have happened in politics. And perhaps all we need now is a step in the right direction.

If Nawaz succeeds at building a strong (although fallacious) narrative of victimhood and Asif manages to draft an effective foreign policy strategy with input from the erudite likes of Sartaj Aziz, such progress may not be too ambitious a postulation. And in the process, if enough of a foundation is laid for future civilian set-ups to build upon, Nawaz may even be able to salvage some part of his legacy in the scrolls of history.

Raza Rashid

Raza Rashid

The author is a Barrister and is interested in politics, religion and sports. He tweets at @RazaRashid14 (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Hosur

    Trade between India and Pakistan will benefit both nations unlike China where it benefits only one nation with an adverse balance of trade.Once both nations drop their kashmir centric policies they will make phenomenal progress because resources can now be diverted towards betterment of their citizens who are tired and really not interested in this pointless wrangling.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    This young man has got a heft to tackle complex geo-political issue which is India and Pakistan relations. Although I respect most of his points the key question is left unanswered. Why would Modi reciprocate to Nawaz? What does he get in return? More violence Pakistani army causes in Kashmir using non state actors, the better it is for Modi to galvanize Hindus on single anti Pakistan platform. That will win him votes. Going with Nawaz will get him nothing. Nawaz is too weak to declare Kashmir is done issue for Pakistan. Only Pak army can do it with some credibility. Without such decisive conclusion on Kashmir Modi will get only scorn in his core Hindu constituency.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    I think it is about time our civil government took back control of the foreign policy. Nawaz Sharif will come back (hopefully) and improve relations with India.Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    Nawaz Sharif and Indian PM were on the same page from the very first day on putting Kashmir behind and normalizing relations … The Paki military establishment as usual threw the spanner to stop that from happening … !! … That is the reason Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi are accused by the opposition in their respective countries as Yaar of each other … !!Recommend

  • Patwari

    Huh? Seriously? You think so? Er…well, see… there is this little
    matter of the Butcher of Gujrat. Who was Involved in a Muslim Massacre in Gujrat. While he was Chief Minister there. He is also known as Modi.
    About Muslim lynchings. If they are found anywhere near any kind of meat, even if it’s a dead cow laying in the street, they are killed immediately.
    Moving on to the Refrigerator Police. The Saffron Lord also known as
    Modi Sarkar lead a crusade of RSS/Shiv Sena/ BJP thugs to destroy Babri Mosque. The same Vermilion Lord who equates Muslims to little puppies run
    over by a car. There are Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad, Anti Muslim campaigns…..
    Now we are at the Samjhota Express Attack. Perhaps we should move on to the giant prison/concentration camp known as Bharati Occupied Kashmir.
    Where 12 million Muslim Kashmiris are brutally guarded by one million
    Bharati army soldiers. No law and order. Total chaos. Martial Law in place.
    Perhaps it’s time for you to vacate the rock you have been living under.
    May Lord Rama, goddess Lakshmi, Lord Ganesha, goddess Parvati, Lord
    Hanuman shower their blessings on the hindu nation, where toilets are
    the need of the day.Recommend

  • Hassan Mirza

    Ex Prime Minister of Pakistan have only one Legacy which is corruption. I do not know About Indians Patriotic Pakistani nor want Nawaz . Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    1. India’s internal affairs, as you listed out, has nothing to do with India’s external relations, including with Pakistan. You Pakistanis have no business with India’s internal affairs.
    2. The people of India voted overwhelmingly to propel Modi as the Prime Minister of India, and they did it for valid reasons, whether you Pakistanis like it or not. Now look at the mirror, on how the Hindus have been systematically decimated in your Pakistan over the past 70 years. On the contrary, the Muslims in India thrived during the same period.Recommend

  • peter pan

    Changed ground realities require a new Kashmir policy.

    The ground realities have changed quite significantly since our Kashmir policy was first formulated. It may be time to test the underlying assumptions of this policy vis a vis our own national interest, without being distracted by the accusations and counter accusations between India and Pakistan that make the headlines.

    Over the period 2005- 2010 several attempts have been made to test opinion in Azad and Occupied Kashmir about attitudes on key issues in the dispute. First, a survey conducted in August 2007 and sponsored by media groups, Indian Express –The Dawn- CNN-IBN showed that: “87% of the people in the Kashmir valley wanted independence. However, the desire for joining Pakistan figured very low as a preference for Kashmiris”. Another survey conducted in May 2010 by Chatham House, a think-tank in London, showed that: “In the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley in Indian-administered Kashmir, the proportion in favor of independence ranged from 74%-95%. However, in the predominantly Hindu Jammu part of Indian-administered Kashmir, there was virtually no support for independence at all. This survey also indicated that If movement across the LoC were to be fully liberalized, support for keeping the LoC rises dramatically to 85% overall”.

    It appears that: (a) the Kashmiris in Occupied Kashmir are not as keen to join Pakistan as the Azad Kashmiris are for them to do so. Over time, the interests of the people of Occupied Kashmir have become different from those of their brethren on the other side of the border; (b) In view of the evolving political dynamics within Occupied and Azad Kashmir and changes in the ethnic and religious mix of the population of Occupied Kashmir, the relative position and political voice of the Azad Kashmiris in an independent Kashmir may not be as important compared to what they enjoy in Azad Kashmir.

    Given the low desire of the people of Occupied Kashmir wishing to join Pakistan and the uncertainty of the political disposition of an independent Kashmir vis -a- vis Pakistan and even Azad Kashmiris, it cannot be taken as a given that the relations between Pakistan and an independent Kashmir, were it to be created, would be as favorable to Pakistan as those between Pakistan and Azad Kashmir today. In fact there is a high probability that while Pakistan and the Azad Kashmiris will lose control over Azad Kashmir, in such a transaction, they may gain very little in return. It may well be in the interest of both Pakistan an Azad Kashmiris to help formalize the LOC as the de-jure border between the two countries.
    If this realization gains ground within the Pakistan it would drastically reduce the space for the Jihadi groups to operate and a reduction of hostile activities across the border. Over time, such an environment would contribute to ending the repression in Occupied Kashmir and improve the chances of free cross border movement across the line of control, which seems to be the desire of the Kashmiris on both sides of the border.Recommend

  • peter pan

    The opinion surveys I refer to were conducted by :
    (a) a joint media group comprising Dawn, CNN, Indian Express
    (b) Chatam house a UK based think tant
    The surveys were conducted on both sides of the border. You can find them on the internet.
    These just show that the Muslim Kashmiris do NOT want to join Pakistan. They want independence from India and an independent Kashmir.
    My question is why should Pakistan support this fight for independence?
    We can do so on altruist moral grounds. But the result of this independence will be that we will lose control over Pakistan Kashmir and get NOTHING in return. The Pakistani Kashmiris will also not have the same voice and support that they have in Pakistan.
    So clearly on the grounds of national interests such a policy goes AGAINST our national interests.
    Now I agree that there is the problem of the violence Kashmiris suffer.
    My contention is that, first this is an Indian internal problem, very similar to the problem ( if any) of the much larger Muslim population in other parts of India. So why should Pakiistan be specially concerend about the Indian Muslim Kashmiris when it does not ( and indeed cannot ) do any thing for the other Indian Muslims.
    Time has moved on and we should stop living in the past.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nawaz Sharif’s failing was that he thought Pakistan was his personal property to do as he wishes……the concept of a democratic / parliamentary system was alien to him. A case of political arrogance. He used parliament only when he got into hot water when Imran Khan pushed him. If the military were to be kept at bay all he had to do was deliver for the people and both Zardari and Nawaz failed miserably at this. Also his own action allowed a perception to be created that his India overtures were more to benefit his business interests than the country’s trade……and in politics perception is more than reality.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Ah! There! Truth stings.What are you doing
    writing in Pak paper?
    You stay out of Pak business and ePapers.
    And the Paks won’t give a doozy about Hindustan.Recommend

  • Patwari

    The surveys conducted by everyone and his brother are not relevant.
    Were never relevant. They do not gauge the underlying stark truth.
    The argument ‘what do we get in return’ defeats everything. These
    are human beings, 12 million Muslims, not pawns. They have nothing
    in common with Hindustan,…… by any stretch of the imagination.
    The Muslims living in other parts of Hindustan made a decision to stay
    in Hindustan. They decided not emigrate to Pakistan. They still have a
    choice, to leave. To wherever they choose to go.or apply..
    So, instead of granting independence/freedom to the Bharati Occupied
    Kashmiris, Bharat now has a bleeding festering wound that will not heal.
    And the prognosis is getting worse by the day.
    It is no longer a Bharati internal problem when Human Rights are violated
    blatantly, when an apartheid is practiced, when people are tied to army
    jeeps as human shields. Then it becomes an international problem.
    When Bharati Muslim citizens of Kashmir feel they in a giant prison camp
    and can be killed on a whim any day by an army soldier, then there will a severe resistance. backlash…when old men, old women children and school
    girls throw rocks at soldiers……then.things are dire, indeed.Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    I posted my comment here only because the article deals with with India’s external affairs with Pakistan.Recommend


    A very well written and meaningful article. We in India fully comprehend and support the views expressed in this article. It is the truth that the good of both these countries is to accept the realities, be friends and stand for each other. Otherwise, as it always happens in the case of two brothers of cousins fight, it is the outsiders who drive the most benefits. Look at the gains of America and China in this case.The ego and desire to teach each other a lesson only has been the cause of mutual destruction. The entire period of Muslim rule in India teaches this lesson but we are blind and wasting precious time to be together with open boarders. Interested parties will never permit this; but we with wisdom of centuries should understand and act.Recommend


    Just revisit your comments and the conversation that followed. It is full of ego, desire to run down the other and show off to each other. Remember we are same people with common fore fathers, culture and history. See, this will finally be counter productive for our people. Why are we shedding each others blood?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Have you noticed the comments from your countrymen?
    Or do you just give out advice when somebody get the
    better of you wordwise. Too bad your communication
    skills along with your countrymen are not up to par.
    You should be giving this advice to YOUR countrymen.
    In triplicate. They happen to infest these pages with
    their toxic virulent hateful comments.
    It seems like all 2 billion of ya’ll are lined up with
    your newly invented anti Pak slogans.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    You are wrong, Pakistanis think they had four-fathers not forefathers. Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Lahori Patel Ji, how many Gujju Muslims ran to Pakistan, fyi 11 Million Bangalis came to India in 1971 as refugee?Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Kashmir valley will be populated with industrious ex-service men and women by December 2017 to make it peaceful and prosperous land. Valley will be another UT. Whoever wants peace and prosperity will be given that.Recommend

  • Sane

    Nawaz Sharif is history. Shall be remembered as one of the most corrupt politician of Pakistan who looted this country as much as possible. PML(N) does not exist anymore.Recommend

  • Sane

    Pakistani if had four fathers, then how many you Hindus had? India was always a paradise for invaders, who fathered many illegitimate children who are running Indian politic. So many fathers that their mothers couldn’t count.Recommend

  • Sane

    But, this is for Pakistanis consumption. Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Your half father ie ConAngrez are disappearing in India. Will you do yearly Shradh for them?Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Let us see. Ur spirituality if there is any is Bedouins. So Bedouins are 1st top most father. Your national anthem is Persian but u think it is Turkic Urdu. So Turks are #2 father. Anglos created Pakistan in London. So #3 father is Anglos of EU & America. Recommend


    Unfortunately yes. These days.Recommend