Not many Indian leaders know how to handle him
JUST before Prime Minister Vajpayee's Lahore bus yatra his predecessor, Mr. Inder Gujral, told me that Nawaz Sharif appeared to be a realistic, reasonable and rational leader. He recalled a conversation on Jammu and Kashmir, when Sharif, a Kashmiri hailing from Anantnag, who was known to be an uncompromising hardliner on Kashmir, had realistically remarked: “Hum jaante hain ki ham Kashmir aapse le nahin sakte aur aap humko Kashmir de nahin sakte” (“I know we cannot seize Kashmir from you and you cannot give Kashmir to us”). Sharif's comments were made after his election in 1997 when, with his patronage, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, emerged as the most influential Jihadi leader in Pakistan, dedicated to “unfurling the green flag of Islam in New Delhi, Washington and Tel Aviv”.
Sharif is incredibly hospitable. He is a great fan of Bollywood films and loves listening to songs of Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi and Kishore Kumar. Hindi film songs were played during a lunch Sharif hosted for Mr. Vajpayee. But his authoritarian streak was evident when he refused to allow Leader of Opposition Benazir Bhutto to meet Mr. Vajpayee. Moreover, Mr. Vajpayee's aircraft had barely taken off from Lahore, when "Khalistan" slogans and propaganda designed to incite visiting Sikh pilgrims from India were unleashed across gurdwaras in Lahore and Nankana Sahib. Unknown to Indian intelligence and the Army, units of Pakistan's Northern Light Infantry were being infiltrated across the Line of Control in J&K. Mr. Sharif was briefed about the Kargil intrusions, both in Rawalpindi and Skardu. Did he not see the contradiction between embracing Mr. Vajpayee on the one hand and unleashing the Pakistan Army to cross the LoC on the other?
On February 12, 1993, during Sharif's first term as Prime Minister, multiple bomb blasts rocked Mumbai, resulting in 350 fatalities and injuries to around 1,200 persons. While Dawood Ebrahim, now a resident in Karachi, organised the explosions, the trail led to the involvement of Sharif's handpicked ISI chief, Lieut-Gen Javed Nasir, and Sharif himself. Moreover, despite what Sharif told Mr. Inder Gujral, the reality is that he does not hesitate to raise the issue of Jammu and Kashmir at every conceivable occasion in Pakistan and when abroad. Sharif has sought to present Kashmir in the Islamic world as an issue of occupation of Muslim lands. Whether he would be amenable to adopting a more realistic path, in keeping with what he told Mr. Gujral, remains to be seen. The world has after all changed dramatically since he was ousted and forced to leave for Saudi Arabia in 1999.
Sharif entered politics as a protégé of President Zia-ul-Haq and Zia's Governor of Punjab, Lieut-Gen Ghulam Jilani Khan. His father, long persecuted by Bhutto, was a natural ally of Zia's military regime. After a brief tenure as Chief Minister of Punjab, Sharif was catapulted to power as Prime Minister in 1990, heading an alliance of Islamist parties put together by the Army Chief, Gen Aslam Beg, and the ISI chief, Lieut-Gen Asad Durrani. But, despite having been catapulted to power by the Army, Sharif has been at constant loggerheads with the successive Army Chiefs. During his first term he was accused by the wife of Army Chief Asif Nawaz of being responsible for her husband's death. He was then sacked by Nawaz's successor Waheed Kakkar following differences with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. In his second term, he chose to sack the mild-mannered Army Chief, Gen Jehangir Karamat. General Musharraf, whom he appointed to replace Karamat, ousted him from power before imprisoning and exiling him to Saudi Arabia over differences on who should take the blame for the Kargil fiasco.