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Looking at Nawaz Sharif from New Delhi


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enter image description hereThe oath-taking is over and so is the job of assigning jobs to individual ministers. Beyond Nawaz Sharif becoming Prime Minister for a historic third-term, what strikes me is that the old team is back too.

From Ishaq Dar to Khwaja Asif, from Chaudhry Nisar to Ahsan Iqbal, loyalty has been rewarded by Nawaz Sharif. In the Prime Minister’s mind, he seems to want to begin from where he left off in 1999.

Sartaj Aziz, one-time finance and foreign minister, has returned as a key adviser on foreign and national security affairs. The circle is complete.

My Pakistani friends have told me time and again that Mian Sahab is a changed man. He’s learnt his lessons from the run-up to the 1999 coup and is now interested in working for the welfare of the people of Pakistan.

The fact is that he ran a whimsical, power-hungry government, which had to deal with the May 1998 Indian nuclear tests a year after taking power for the second time in 1997.

And, since I lived and reported from Pakistan at the time, I remember that lakhs of Pakistanis lost all their savings when their dollar accounts were frozen and told they could withdraw their money in rupees at a rate fixed by the government.

(I must add here that my own foreign currency account was frozen at the time as the government feared a run on the banks in the wake of the response nuclear tests conducted by Sharif’s government. After running around for weeks, I was able to withdraw my savings since exceptions were made for foreigners!).

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying.

I want Mr. Sharif and his team to succeed – in delivering a regular and reliable power supply, in ending the Taliban menace through any medium that works, in building good relations with Afghanistan, India and the United States – success in everything that the people of Pakistan want.

Pakistan and the region would be a far better place if we could concentrate on commerce and not conflict.

On India, Mr. Sharif has made all the right noises. Even during his second term, the noises were pretty much in tune with the larger objective of engaging India. But the actions (in the form of Kargil) for which Sharif may or may not have been responsible were another story.

At the time, in 1997-1999, anti-India groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba were out in full force on the streets and the Prime Minister and his team could do little about it. There was also little doubt that the Army establishment of the time led by General Pervez Musharraf was fully backing these anti-India groups.

It’s key that this time round Mr. Sharif is able to translate his words into actual results. I’m a bit wary given the number of false starts India and Pakistan have made in the past two decades.

My sense is that having good relations with India and Afghanistan is intrinsically linked to Pakistan’s internal well-being.

If Pakistan moved steadily along the democratic path, if its rulers respect the rule of law and constitutional limits, and work seriously towards improving the lot of its people, then they and the region can hope for a better future.

If not, all of us might be in for a bad re-run with new characteristics.

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Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan. He tweets @abaruah64.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (60) Closed

imtiaz Hydari Jun 10, 2013 02:37pm

It would be nice if for once an Indian writer or Politician was to say that India needs to show its friendly face to Pakistan and act like a big brother instead of taking the punishment approach "stop cricketing contacts".

graham Jun 10, 2013 02:41pm

Pakistan has no choice. Unless they make relations normal, they are doomed.

Pakistan can ill afford another war with India though the generals will always be keen as that would line their pockets.

AR Jun 10, 2013 03:06pm

One big hurdle for peace is that one group of migrant people from India believes that making peace with India nullifies the very reason to migrate to Pakistan after partition. Historically this group has strong presence in Armed forces and shown its strength in the past (coup of Zia ul Haq and Pervaiz Musharraf). On the contrary, other group of migrants (Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif etc.) want to have peace with India. I hope now as the later group has more political power, peace takes its strong roots between India ans Pakistan.

Khalid Jun 10, 2013 03:43pm

Dear Amit, What a fantastic analysis of the current situation. I think you have said everything I had in mind. I particularly remember the freezing of the foreign currency accounts as I lost a lot of money, along with lots of my friends. Your wonderful article covers everything. Congratulations!. With my best wishes, Khalid

Parvez Jun 10, 2013 04:10pm

Nicely said. This time around Nawaz Sharif does not have much ' free space ' to play with. On all fronts he must get it right. On matters regarding India, Afghanistan, Iran, China, USA, religious extremists etc he needs to project a clear vision and be on the same page as the COAS......this will prove challenging but doable. One the internal mess he has inherited, if he shies away from ruthless accountability (not just a political witch hunt) it will just make matters worse for his party.

R Jun 10, 2013 05:00pm

@AR: What an absurd logic. Blaming the same group for one thin g and then denying the same. By this twisted logic entire Pakistan should be against peace with India as they all sepearted out and not just immigrants.

Wasim Jun 10, 2013 05:35pm

@Khalid: May I remind Khalid and Amit that nobody lost money with frozen Dollar accounts. We got it in Rs only but with higher exchange rates than the actual rate of the time. Also whoever did not withdraw their money at that time got Rs on current rates and later foreign currency also. And by the way can Amit tell us that which Indian bank or government ever gave away dollars, even if you have dollar NRI account, throughout their history? And let me also remind them that it was NS previous policies that we started getting dollars from our foreign currency accounts, which India has still not done.

Muthu Jun 10, 2013 06:19pm

@AR: You sound like Abbas Toronto:)

Khalid Jun 10, 2013 06:31pm

@Wasim: Well, I am not sure if you are trying to justify the act by saying that the only difference was that you could withdraw in local currency. Can you tell me please what is the purpose of having a FCY account?. Because we do not want to keep our money in local currency. Where in the world can a government just tell US Dollar account holders that they can only withdraw in local currency and for that matter a currency that was losing value on a daily basis. Just one last question...since you seem to be closer to Mr. Nawaz Sharif, what was the purpose of freezing those accounts?. I wonder when Mr. Nawaz Sharif went into exile, did he take Pakistani Rupees with him to Saudi Arabia and UK to start his businesses?.

pramod Jun 10, 2013 06:41pm

@imtiaz Hydari: You can not have Kargil at one hand and peace talk in other. Time again people in Pakistan Army have confessed that terrorist group are being used for strategic advantage. How can you expect people to enjoy cricket match when People are dying in Mumbai attack.

Anas Jun 10, 2013 06:58pm

@AR: How can you relate all of it with migrants or their successors, where is the logic in this comment....

Khalid Jun 10, 2013 09:25pm

@imtiaz Hydari: Have we become so absorbed in our own "greatness" that we have no shame in saying anything to anyone, even if it makes our nation sound and look like an immature, inconsiderate and rude lot. Please, at least have some manners. Is it asking for too much?.

zac Jun 10, 2013 11:54pm

@pramod : it was 14 years ago. its time to move on. Ind hasnt exactly been a saint during last 65 years

Syed Jun 10, 2013 11:55pm

It is a finely described situation by an outsider, who is keeping a keen eye on Pakistan affairs. Freezing of dollar account was national level fraud by the Sharif government. As they particularly devised "Green Channel" scheme and vehemently invited people to open Forreign Currency Accounts, which probably was not very common practice. Specially the Pakistanis living abroad were attracted by this sceme as it became easier for them to send remitence in dollars. People were suddenly decieved by Sharifs when they blocked their money on filimsy excuse of relating it with the nuclear blast. This shattered the confidence of the Pakistanis abroad, who stopped their remitences for a long time. Only Musharraf realised the situation and returned the money to the people.

IBN-E-ASHFAQUE Jun 11, 2013 12:28am

Indians need to respond to NS's goodwill. It needs two to tango. How can there be peace? when Indians have been attacking us via their proxies on our western borders. They have gone back on relaxing visa restrictions on travel between the two countries.

Faz Jun 11, 2013 02:40am

Amit- Although what you have written is all true but I believe blaming everything on Pakistan is not fair. Also, expecting Pakistan to do everything with regards to improving relations with India is also not fair. The first step for both India and Pakistan is to accept the mistakes that have been made by each. Pakistan has made more mistakes than India. So India also needs to step up and take steps to build confidence. They owe this to the young generation of the Sub Continent.

Khalid Jun 11, 2013 02:52am

@Wasim: What India has still not done or done is irrelevant. India is the 6th largest economy in the world. I think we should get this inferiority complex out of our system and try to progress like India.

Wasim Jun 11, 2013 03:07am

@Khalid: Khalid, I have already explained in my previous reply that our neighboring country India, right next door, does not allow to withdraw dollars or any other FCY from their FCY accounts. They can only withdraw Ind Rs in cash. You can very easily verify it before you comment any further. This practice is also followed by many other 3rd world countries which cannot afford to give away FCY. Every one knows why our accounts were frozen. I don't think I need to explain it. I am not a fan of NS and not even voted for him. We just express our opinions through this forum and there is nothing personal between us. I sincerely hope that you will remember that before you being sarcastic again. Thanks.

A.M. Jun 11, 2013 06:31am

Time will keep moving forward, unfortunately Muslims will keep moving backward they want to move backward faster and faster so that they could meet Mohammad. Nawaz is no exception he might be saying words which fit the present day reality but his heart is in search of Mohammad. The only way Muslims can move forward is by taking their religion back to the place where it started deposit there in the four walls of the cube come back to their land as enlightened peoples and start moving forward.

stan Jun 11, 2013 06:46am

For Pakistan to have better relations with Afghanistan, first of Pakistan should condemn Indian consulates in Afghanistan and forcibly shut them down. We dont want Afghanistan to be a satellite for India.

Akil Akhtar Jun 11, 2013 09:12am

@pramod : You cannot point fingers at others when you have more skeletons in your own closet, Kashmir, Siachen, bangladesh, Balochistan insurgency etc.

Akil Akhtar Jun 11, 2013 09:13am

@imtiaz Hydari: very true. How do they expect Pakistan to respond when all they do is demonise and threaten Pakistan. Their own population is totally blind to the terrorist activities of RAW in the neighbouring states such as Pakistan , Srilanka, Bangladesh etc. I say unless the narrow mindedness and hatered of indians is there peace is only a pipe dream.

rashid zaidi Jun 11, 2013 09:16am

Great piece, the writer has experienced Pakistan, can relate to realities, unlike most Indian writers who hypothesize most of the matter from western media sources. Pakistan and India are about to get over their differences soon. Had the prime minister of India come to Sharif's inauguration it would have helped a lot. Things in India are fluid as they head into elections, so people in Pakistan have to be patient, things have no where to go but positive. There is desire on both side of the border to improve relations and that is going to happen.

Robert Jun 11, 2013 09:26am

Acting like a big brother ? India is the BIG brother.

Abdul Mateen Jun 11, 2013 09:57am


Parivel Jun 11, 2013 10:23am

I like the below wordings. Really, we could convert south asia to another Europe if, both India & pakistan resolves their problems amicably. "Pakistan and the region would be a far better place if we could concentrate on commerce and not conflict"

M. Gul Jun 11, 2013 10:36am

Although I voted for PTI, IK still needs to learn the art of politics. Under such a situation, NS is the bet choice. Till now, he has played his cards well. Lets hope & pray he continues to act and behave like a balanced leader. Only time will tell.

M. Gul Jun 11, 2013 10:41am

Although I voted for IK, I think NS is the best choice. Seems he has learnt from his past mistake. He has till now acted maturely and pray he continues on this part. It's only time which will tell!

Sandeep Singh Jun 11, 2013 10:57am

A Pakistani will always be a Pakistani. He cannot be a Change. No Relationship with Pakis Plz

El Cid Jun 11, 2013 10:58am


Does he not have to shy away from ruthless accountability if he wants to be on the same page as the COAS and other businessmen?

El Cid Jun 11, 2013 11:04am


There is no shame in truth.

K G Surendran Jun 11, 2013 11:30am

Please let him settle down in his job and definitely his priorities will be on the domestic front, not international, to sort out the problems confronting the masses

Ravi Jun 11, 2013 11:41am

Peace, Peace, Peace. Whatever it takes.


AR Jun 11, 2013 04:32pm

@Anas Migrants from India were relatively more educated and have been more active in politics, education, civil bureacracy, armed forces etc....(e.g. Abdus sattar edhi, Dr Atta ur Rehman, Mududi, Zia ul haq, Pervaiz Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif, Imran khan, Mustafa Kamal.....). They are relatively more sensitive to the Pakistan's relations with India as compared to e.g. an ethnic Punjabi or Sindhi (non-migrants). Given the influence of these immigrants in national politics, it really matters what they think.

Kalasinga Jun 11, 2013 06:21pm

Indians want nothing but peace between our two countries. Kick out the extremists in both countries to re establish solid trade and diplomatic relations for the betterment of both nations.As for Kashmir issue is concerned it will be status co forever ,i am afraid. there will not be any quick fix solutions but we can always move on like india/china.

Saeed Jun 11, 2013 06:27pm

@Syed: So India is also part of this fraud as he first conducted the nuclear test, Pakistan followed and then the accounts were freezed... :)

Nikhil Jun 11, 2013 07:17pm

@Akil Akhtar: Pointing fingers is always easy ... and that is wat is hindering our progress. There is a trust deficit from both sides, both sides are responsible for it ....its hard to love a country that is blamed almost every month for some mass killing in ur country [like u have drone strikes, we have the bombers]. So yeah I hate u guys ...but respect ur right to live in dignity and expect the same frm ur side, nothing more nothing less !!!

Tikamdas Punjabi Jun 11, 2013 07:43pm

Pakistan has practiced falsehood in social, political system for a long time and feelings of hatred propagated and encouraged against India has immensely damaged it. Part of military, ISI and religious fanatics have played a big role in spoiling relations between our two countries who share centuries old common culture - who almost share the same qualities, human qualities and aspirations. Remember Nawaz Sharif has to play to his local compulsions first and unless military, ISI and religious extremists do not realise their folly of hatred towards India, nothing is going to change though it appears their economic difficulties, social isolations have forced informed segment of population there to see reason and they are often expressing their disgust at the policies followed by that country for long. And if their reasoning pervades, Nawaz Sharif will be only too willing to avail of the opportunity to build stronger ties with India as that is the only option for Pakistan to help build Pakistan, and indeed the sub continent.

SathyaMurthi Jun 11, 2013 08:01pm

@Wasim: Foreign currency account held by Non Resident Indians is fully repatriable in foreign currency . No restriction what so ever There is not even a permit required to repatriate.

Tikamdas Punjabi Jun 11, 2013 08:05pm

@rashid zaidi: Yes Rashid is correct. People of our two countries share the same culture, language, dress, and host of cultural similarities and. think deeply, you will feel they share the same destiny. Follies of past must be guarded against. Lot of time has been wasted due to bigger role played by mischief makers. We owe it to our future generations. Let us share the destiny of peace, prosperity and brotherhood. Faith is individual's personal affair. Whether one goes to mosque, temple or church let him find his God. All faiths have same purpose. Lets accept the fact.

Kumar Jun 11, 2013 10:15pm

@Sandeep Singh:

You are old school, bro! we need peace and prosperity in both countries !

John Jun 12, 2013 12:14am

Musharraf was recently quoted saying India broke up Pakistan to form Bangladesh. It was legitimate for Pakistan to support militancy against India. The question I have for likes of Musharraf is , Who broke up India in 1947?

Vijay Jun 12, 2013 12:48am

@Wasim: You certainly need to know more about indian foreign currency (NRI) accounts. Please keep reading.

Shruti Jun 12, 2013 08:42am

@IBN-E-ASHFAQUE: Don't look at things in such a simplistic fashion. Visa restrictions for Pakistanis, is generally a lot higher in all countries. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been extremely polite in his reply and even welcomed Mr. Sharif to visit India. But he is not going to lay bare everything, including our economy or security interests just because a diplomat is being friendly.

Pakistan has to earn the credibility and trust of nations and the relationship with Pakistan has to be mutually beneficial. There is no free lunch in the world, and especially in foreign diplomacy.

Shruti Jun 12, 2013 08:48am

@imtiaz Hydari:

Of course when we ban your cricket team we punish you. But when Pakistan sponsored terrorists pose terror threats to India, it's not punishment.

You don't expect India to overlook that hostility, do you?

Akash Jun 12, 2013 09:17am

Amit Sahib,

It will be delightful for ONCE to see an Indian addressing their fair shares of faults in bad relations between Pak and India. Your article was a combination of hope, fear and finger pointing at Pakistan and Mr. Sharif;s previous term policies, why could you not accept why Pakistan had to match Indian nuclear tests and incurred serious financial difficulties in the after math of sanctions imposed by the world. World though blamed then India for starting a nuclear race, India responded by pointing finger at china only to be rebuked by chinese in disgust. 1. Here what I want, just read Times of India, Hindu, and Hindustan times news about Pakistan and readers ugly, offensive and vulgar comments. 2. Answer me why India had yet to realize its internal problems in Kashmir, Punjab and Mao insurgency? Journey of 1000 miles start with a single step and you have to take it by educating Indians to change there mind set toward Pakistan. Give respect to earn respect. Remember what Mr. Sharif said in an interview " Badshao apnay dil ko saaf karo akhir pehlay hum ek thay"

Arun Jun 12, 2013 09:18am

The author says "At the time, anti-India groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba were out in full force on the streets and the Prime Minister and his team could do little about it". Isn't that just making excuses for Nawaz? The LeT is not on the streets at this time, but will the PM and his team do anything about prosecuting those for the Mumbai attacks? I don't think so. Nothing has changed. The PM and his team will go nowhere if they run scared of the LeT and their Army sponsors. And that will hurt Pakistan more than it hurts India.

Akash Jun 12, 2013 09:50am

Amit Sahib,

It will be delightful for ONCE to see an Indian addressing their fair shares of faults in bad relations between Pak and India. Your article was a combination of hope, fear and finger pointing at Pakistan and Mr. Sharif;s previous term policies, why could you not accept why Pakistan had to match Indian nuclear tests and incurred serious financial difficulties in the after math of sanctions imposed by the world. World though blamed then India for starting a nuclear race, India responded by pointing finger at china only to be rebuked by chinese in disgust. 1. Here what I want, just read Times of India, Hindu, and Hindustan times news about Pakistan and readers ugly, offensive and vulgar comments. 2. Answer me why India had yet to realize its internal problems in Kashmir, Punjab and Mao insurgency? Journey of 1000 miles start with a single step and you have to take it by educating Indians to change there mind set toward Pakistan. Give respect to earn respect. Remember what Mr. Sharif said in an interview " Badshao apnay dil ko saaf karo akhir pehlay hum ek thay"

SHYAM LAL DADHICHI Jun 12, 2013 10:17am

The continent needs peace not acrimony. Mian Nawaz Sharief seems to have understand of the same. In many respects, our economies are complimentary. If Pakistan market is added with 1.20 Billion plus of India, then it becomes a huge market. Vice versa is also true. Our region has the highest potential of economic growth. Our leadership in India and Pakistan has to tap it. Prime Minister Nawaz before elections had emphatically said that he will have good relations with India. So he has mandate of the people. We hope there will be a new chapter in Indo Pak relations and it will be a win win for both.

Chaman Jun 12, 2013 03:53pm

@El Cid: Truly no shame but all virtue

Pak_P for peace Jun 12, 2013 03:54pm

@Tikamdas Punjabi: Given the historical perspective,to single out Pakistan out of Indo-Pak checkered equation when to comes to the notions of feeding falsehood, inducing war hysteria, injecting ultra-nationalism or religious fanaticism to the respective nations wouldn't absolve Indian side of acting or counter-acting on the same lines thus resonated and consolidated the very impression of Pakistan being an arch-enemy now imbedded deep in the Indian hearts and minds. If one one hand the ISI played havoc with the bi-lateral relations then RAW too sabotaged the very idea of co-existence. Again if sectors of Pakistani society nurtured the hardliners who would settle nothing less than to teach India a lesson then segments of Indian society too adores the saffron-clad extremists who would brag to wipe Pakistan off the face of earth. The ghosts of the past that now haunts both the countries is the eventual culmination of the relentless hatred that fanned across the border since the partition saga unfolded. One would agree that Pakistan have come a long way from her traditional stance when it comes to relations with India. Pakistani society owing to multifaceted reasons has evolved to be more tolerant than it ever was in the past. The incumbent premier of Pakistan NS has made all the right noise regarding Pak-India relations. I bet one wont see the hawks gaining any grounds in Pakistan but unfortunately the likes of Narinder Modi still holds the Indian political milieu at sway. Saying that we all really hope against the hope that the both the countries instead of dwelling in the past would make a sincere effort to move forward, to foster relations that would benefit people of both the countries and would resolve all the out standing issues amicably.

Noman Moten Jun 12, 2013 04:42pm

@Vijay: only Punjabis share the same language and culture. Whereas the Western Belt of Pakistan doesn't share anything with India.

Majeed Aslam Raja Jun 12, 2013 05:52pm

@John: Congress & Muslim League. Sardar Patel was chief supporter of creation of Pakistan.

joseph Jun 12, 2013 06:04pm

@John: True, but Pakistan lost Bangladesh due to misrule and treating the Bengalis as second class citizens but all these warped military goons refuse to acknowledge this harsh truth.

Yasar Butt Jun 12, 2013 09:31pm

@John: That was Nehru, so India. Please read history books.

yaqoot mir Jun 13, 2013 01:11am

@SHYAM LAL DADHICHI: Yes but India does not provide equal access to Pakistani goods, read your trading terms with SAARC you will know better, Pakistani cement is 15% cheaper than indian cement yet when tarrifs are added it becomes 10% more expensive to India cement and almost 5% expensive compared to Dubai? do you think that makes sense?> Pakistan has no access to your airwaves despite the fact we granted equal acess to your TV channels in our country?, how about you choking the water of Pakistani rivers which is effecting flow to our country? these are thorny issues that CANNOT be side stepped which is why relations don't improve.

yaqoot mir Jun 13, 2013 01:17am

@Shruti: You tell me what does the Pakistani cricket teams visit to India or vice versa have to do with politics? be rational my friend......problems will not go away with that attitude? your country sent in its blind cricket team, its volley ball team and yet the cricket team was prevented from touring does that make sense to you?

ProudPakistani Jun 13, 2013 06:44am

Why Dawn allows illiterate Indians to comment on Pak policies ? Go & ask Indian Prime Minister to first settle all outstanding issues. Don't try to dictate any agenda and don't forget we too are nuclear power. For now , my advice to Indian commentators is , " Go , fly a kite ".

Mohammad Bajwa Jun 13, 2013 10:34am

Real test would come when he can live with a democratic opposition instead of trying to destroy it.

hussain Jun 13, 2013 01:08pm

@Ravi: like this