Brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif could start peace with India.
Shehbaz has long been the second immortal. Nawaz Sharif’s younger brother has always thrived under his brother’s shadow. Whenever Nawaz became prime minister, in the 1990s and 2010s, he served as chief minister of Punjab province. On Monday, he assumed control of the federal government after a vote of confidence in Parliament. He replaces Imran Khan, dismissed by a condemnation motion on Sunday.
Sentenced to ten years in prison under Imran Khan’s mandate following the disclosure of the “Panama Papers” about his assets overseas, Nawaz Sharif was able to leave for London in 2019 for health reasons. His daughter, Mariames, has also been convicted. Only Shehbaz was left to take the torch.
At 70, he has long been seen as the complete opposite of his brother. While Nawaz is often described as impetuous, impulsive, sluggish, Shehbaz is renowned for his calm, hardworking, caring temperament, knows how to surround himself, but he is also said to be autocratic. Journalists who met him described the characters who controlled his files.
Welcome arrival by New Delhi
He will need these qualities to turn the economy around. Pakistan has been hit hard by the boom in commodity prices and inflation. It only avoided default thanks to China, the IMF and the Gulf states in recent years. An economic revival will primarily require warming ties with India, whose bilateral trade totaled a meager $459 million last year, five times less than three years ago. During his first address to the National Assembly as head of government on Monday, Shehbaz Sharif called for a relaunch of the peace process.
New Delhi welcomes his arrival in business. “My congratulations to Shehbaz Sharif. (…) India wants peace and stability (…) so we can focus on the economic challenges,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Indian press saw it as an opportunity for a fresh start between the two nuclear powers. “Regime change could open up opportunities,” said The Indian Express, which relies on diplomatic sources. Imran Khan has resisted the resumption of talks as long as India does not return to the revoking of the autonomy of Indian Kashmir which was decided in August 2019. The two countries claim the sovereignty of this territory which they have shared since 1947.
Kashmir dispute must be resolved
In his speech on Monday, Shehbaz Sharif, however, did not stand out from his predecessors. He said he wanted good relations with India, on the condition that a settlement of the Kashmir dispute was “in accordance with UN resolutions”. A statement indicating its refusal to recognize the 2019 revocation of autonomy: resolution 47 of 1948 instead calls for a plebiscite so that Kashmir can choose attachment to India or Pakistan.
Shehbaz Sharif also promised “to raise a voice for our Kashmiri brothers in every international forum”. Islamabad has consistently denounced human rights abuses by Indian troops for several years. Hours after Shehbaz Sharif’s speech, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published another press release denouncing the “continuous killings by Indian occupying forces that led to two other young people being martyred in Srinagar on April 10. More than 560 innocent Kashmiris have been killed by the occupation forces since India’s unilateral and unlawful act in August 2019″.
Finally, Shehbaz Sharif’s maneuvering space became narrow. The army has the upper hand in the foreign policy of the country. And Imran Khan, rejected by the opposition, will try to destabilize him given the legislative elections due next year.
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