ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s unprecedented visit to New Delhi to attend oath-taking ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has created much hype in Pakistan.
How far the meeting of two leaders from archrival South Asian neighbouring states will help the two countries in mending their frigid ties is a big question.
However, the extensive media coverage of Sharif’s visit by state-controlled and local private TV channels has, for the time being, diverted attention of the people from some of the pressing problems of civil-military discord over government’s stance on the issue of prosecution of former president General (r) Pervez Musharraf in a treason case and a private Jang media group’s tussle with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
As the meeting between the two leaders concluded on Tuesday, Pakistani leader of opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshed Shah from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was among the first persons to react, asking political leaders to avoid negative propaganda against the prime minister’s face-to-face parleys with his Indian counterpart. “We should think maturely for the larger interests of the country. It was a good opportunity that leaders of the two countries have exchanged their views. We should not do politics over the prime minister’s visit,” he remarked.
While observers and defence analysts gave a mixed sort of reactions over the prime minister’s visit, the two-day live coverage of events from India has slightly changed the rigid perception of ordinary Pakistanis about the new Indian prime minister, who was widely believed in Pakistan as a staunch opponent of Muslims and architect of the 2002 communal riots in Indian Gujarat. When Sharif received the invitation from Modi for his swearing-in, the public at large were opposing him to make a trip to India. However, the warmth at Delhi and views of experts, mostly pacifists and optimists, on TV channels have softened their opinions.
“The warm handshake with Pakistan’s prime minister, his dress sense, his way of interaction with guests has changed my perception about the new Indian prime minister. I always considered him as an enemy of Muslims,” says Zahid Ali, a graduate, who runs his family by driving a taxi in Islamabad.
“I grew up while hearing stories of life in Bombay from my grandfather who was a non-commissioned government servant there before the 1947 Partition. The PM’s visit has given me hope that a time would come that people from both the countries would easily cross the border,” says Meraj hussain, who owns a bakery in Islamabad.
Several observers believe that unlike previous governments of secular parties, the BJP and PML-N, enjoy absolute majorities in parliaments of their respective countries and can deliver on some of the complex issues which were pending for resolution from a long time.
“The worst times in Pakistan-India relations came under the rule of Congress party, while they have always improved when non-Congress governments came into power,” said analyst Kamran Shafi. He said that secular parties, whether Congress in India or Pakistan People’s Party in Pakistan, constantly remain under pressure from hardliners and Right wing parties from showing much flexibility on intricate issues. “The Right wing parties like the BJP and the PML-N have enough space to manoeuvre and can move forward at ease,” he said, adding that meetings between leaders of two countries should not stop.
Some analysts, however, do not expect any worthwhile outcome from Sharif’s visit and believe that the excitement created on some TV channels would end soon.
“Despite the media hype, the two sides are not likely to sit down for normalisation of talks any time soon. The meeting between Sharif and Modi had touched only cosmetic issues like cricket while the real issues, including Kashmir and the resumption of the composite dialogue, stayed at the back burner,” said Zafar Hilali, a former diplomat and defence analyst.
“Modi has handed over a list of issues to Sharif which he wants to resolve. Let us see, how our prime minister responds,” he added somewhat sarcastically.
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