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POLITICS-PAKISTAN: New Gov’t to Resume Dialogue With India

Analysis by Amir Mir

ISLAMABAD, Mar 24 2008 (IPS) - The installation of a democratically-elected government in Pakistan promises a new chapter in Indo-Pakistan relations, likely after the stalled bilateral dialogue process between New Delhi and Islamabad resumes in April.

Before the Feb. 18 general elections in Pakistan, the Indian side had maintained that it was waiting for the new government to take office in Pakistan to take the dialogue process forward. “We will have to wait till an elected regular government is in place in Pakistan,” India’s foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee was quoted saying in the second week of February.

On Monday Pakistan’s parliament elected Yousuf Raza Gilani, a member of assassinated former opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), to be the country’s new prime minister.

Foreign office sources in Islamabad say Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon is likely to visit Islamabad in April to hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart to wind up the fourth round of a ‘composite dialogue’. The talks, originally scheduled to be completed in October 2007, could not be held because a state of emergency was imposed in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s two mainstream anti-Musharraf parties, the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) are expected to form a coalition government, after Gilani is sworn in by Musharraf on Tuesday.

Musharraf pledged on Sunday, at a parade marking Pakistan’s national day, ‘’full support’’ for ‘’whichever new government is formed’’.

One of the less noticed aspects of the February elections was the complete lack of hostility towards India during the election campaigning. There was no rhetoric calling for a thousand-year war; no mention of completing the unfinished business of the (1947) Partition, no talk of waging jehad to liberate the Muslim brothers in Jammu and Kashmir. For many in Pakistan, this was a major change from most previous general elections when the political parties vied with each other for anti-Indian rhetoric.

However, all major political parties, especially the PPP and the PML-N, did take a position on India in their respective election manifestoes. Both wanted to keep close and friendly ties with India and leave the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute for a future date.

In his first ever post-election television interview on Mar. 1, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari called for a new approach to deal with the Kashmir issue, saying good relations with India would not be held hostage to the ever-lingering Kashmir dispute. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reacted to the statement of the majority party’s leader in Pakistan by expressing the hope that a new era in Indo-Pak relations was about to begin.

Prof. Hasan Askari Rizvi, a former chairman of the political science department at Punjab University, Lahore is also quite optimistic about the future of the Indo-Pak ties primarily because of the installation of a PPP-led government in Islamabad and the diminishing role of Musharraf. He told IPS: “The period between 1999 and 2007 has been stagnant with regard to Indo-Pak relations because of the Musharraf rule. The civilian government of India could never have felt at ease while dealing with a khaki ruler in Pakistan which has been kept devoid of a proper governmental system during all these years,’’ he said.

Pakistan’s former foreign minister and PPP leader, Sardar Asif Ahmed Ali, thinks the biggest issue facing the two countries is the mistrust and animosity between the military establishments of the two countries. “We must realise that hostility simply does not exist between the people of the two countries, yet it got multiplied during the last eight years due to a military government in Pakistan. Now that the PPP is in power, we are hopeful that this problem can be resolved in the light of the vision of our leader, Benazir Bhutto who wanted to establish peace and stability in this region by befriending India,’’ he told IPS.

The PML-N party has also hailed the end of a decade of dictatorial darkness in Pakistan. “We expect the new guards to work for a negotiated and peaceful settlement of all issues between India and Pakistan and to make constructive contribution to regional peace and cooperation,” Ahsan Iqbal, a member of the National Assembly and the central secretary of the PML-N told IPS. “Being coalition partners with the PPP in the centre, the PML-N would like to forward the agenda of peace and prosperity in the region, as envisioned by Nawaz Sharif during his premiership.

Iqbal said the Indo-Pakistan peace process initiated by former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998 was scuttled by Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure, which brought the two nuclear-armed countries to the brink of full-scale war.

 
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