October 2, 2013: Few were surprised when Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif made little headway in reversing the recent deterioration of India-Pakistan relations when they met in New York on September 29. Nawaz’s election in May on a platform that included improving ties with India, especially in the economic sphere, generated rosy hopes. These were dimmed by an outbreak of serious violence in Kashmir and by the preoccupation of both governments with other pressing problems. The weakening of Manmohan Singh’s Congress government by an economic slump and a series of high-level political scandals has also taken its toll.
On the economy, as we have seen, Nawaz Sharif is a man in a hurry. The 15-day deadline he gave his cabinet colleagues to develop action plans for their ministries underscores the priority he places on early, visible improvement in Pakistan’s economy and administration – and on creating a contrast with Asif Zardari’s record. In foreign affairs, he will seek to maintain Pakistan’s position in Afghanistan, manage and if possible repair ties with Washington, and contribute to his economic goals, including if possible moving forward with trade opening with India. The accent will be on continuity, albeit with a more strident tone in his objection to U.S. drone attacks, and on avoiding confrontation with the Pakistan army. For the United States, the challenge will be not to treat Pakistan as an extension of its Afghan problem.
Nawaz Sharif’s swearing-in as prime minister on June 5 represents yet another “second chance” both for Pakistan and for him. Unlike many of the analyses coming from the world outside Pakistan, we believe that the most important question is how he follows through on the promises of prosperity and governance that he made in his first speech to parliament. Accordingly, we will examine his domestic prospects here. His domestic track record will affect his freedom of action on foreign policy; we will explore this in a second essay. One theme that runs through both is that the United States needs to focus more of its attention on Pakistan as Pakistan, rather than viewing the country as a sideshow of the Afghan drama.
April 24, 2013: Pakistanis are scheduled to go to the polls on May 11 to choose members of the country’s National Assembly and its four provincial Legislative Assemblies. We offer a handy primer on the election – and why and how it matters. The bottom line: despite pre-election violence from Islamic extremists, chances are this election will eventually produce a viable government. If mass public protests occur after the election, that would be the clearest indication of a more troublesome prognosis.
March 11, 2013: Pakistan lame-duck Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s brief private visit to India March 9 accomplished nothing of substance, but it put an unintended spotlight on the troubled state into which India-Pakistan relations have fallen in the past few months. The causes of the downturn are many and varied – trouble in Kashmir and along the Line of Control, concerns about post-2014 Afghanistan, a stalling of their encouraging trade opening, and perhaps most importantly impending elections in both countries. A State Department spokeswoman welcomed Ashraf’s visit and confirmed Washington’s interest in the two nations talking to one another. But such long-standing U.S. cheerleading from the sidelines is unlikely to have any meaningful impact. Significant progress seems unlikely until parliamentary elections are held in both countries, Pakistan’s this May, India’s probably in early 2014. Continue reading “India and Pakistan: Low Expectations”