OF one meeting is not made a relationship, functional or otherwise, but Saturday’s three-hour tête-à-tête in Lahore between the incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief Gen Kayani suggests that both sides can at least be expected to try and work together in the months ahead. The army’s hands-off approach towards the elections, for the most part, will have gone some way in addressing the PML-N’s concerns that somehow the likelihood of another stint in Islamabad for the N-League was being undermined by the army — the complaints about a nexus between former ISI chief Gen Pasha and the PTI being the loudest and most toxic. Now that the PML-N has swept to unexpectedly large gains in its strongholds in an on-schedule election with minimal interference by the army-led establishment, the party may be more willing to look at the army leadership as a partner rather than a potential adversary.
On the army’s part, Mr Sharif’s suggestions in the days leading up to the election that a Sharif-led government will determine national security and foreign policies and the army will be expected to follow it will have raised some eyebrows but there was also enough in Mr Sharif’s comments to suggest that he is no way spoiling for a fight. More important will be how the incoming prime minister decides to try and influence two key relationships: with India and Afghanistan. On India, Mr Sharif’s intentions are well known and it can be inferred that the army would prefer a slower rate of progress than the PML-N supremo appears to want. On Afghanistan, Mr Sharif has said virtually nothing, meaning there is little clarity on whether he is in agreement with the preferred army option of creating the maximal space for Pakhtuns/ Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan post-2014. Internally, the PML-N has never seriously questioned military operations, but then, what is said from the luxury of sitting in the opposition can be very different from what is done with a hand on the levers of the state.