Matter Of Life, Death: Right Man for Pakistan’s Top Job

One Prime Minister ended up losing his life and another almost spent the rest of it behind bars despite thinking they covered all the bases for having the right man for Pakistan’s top job: Army chief

Pakistani media have reported Imran Khan was wary of General Syed Asim Munir’s appointment as the army chief.

By Sameer Arshad Khatlani

November has been the most crucial month in Pakistan’s political calendar every three years since 2007. It is the time when the new army chiefs have taken office or have had their tenures extended. In most democratic countries, these are routine processes and often go unnoticed but not in Pakistan. 

The appointments of army chiefs have backfired even when politicians assumed they had covered all the bases. At least two prime ministers, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, thought they were playing it safe by superseding officers to have army chiefs they believed would be harmless. But they ended up paying dearly. 

Bhutto chose Zia-ul-Haq as army chief, superseding seven officers assuming he was incapable of mounting a coup. Zia was a refugee from India from the so-called non-martial farming Arian community unlike his four predecessors, who were Pathans and a Rajput. The British-designated ‘martial races’ such as Pathans, Rajputs, and Jats have been the mainstay of Pakistan’s army.

Zia cultivated the image of being the least ambitious general with no base of his own. He also was not from the Pothwar region, where a bulk of Pakistani soldiers has traditionally been recruited from. Politicians have been disinclined to have army chiefs from the region due to coup fears. Generals from the region are expected to have the support within the army ranks needed to effectively to mount a coup.

None of these calculations worked. Zia, who was born in Jalandhar and educated at Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, proved Bhutto wrong and how. He deposed Bhutto within a year of becoming the army chief in 1977. Bhutto was later put on a questionable trial on trumped-up charges and executed two years later in 1979. 

Sharif repeated the mistake Bhutto made by picking Pervez Musharraf as the army chief for similar reasons. Musharraf, also a refugee from India, was named the army chief in 1998 superseding two officers. Musharraf would depose and jail Sharif a year after becoming the army chief. Sharif chose to go into exile after he was sentenced to life for preventing Musharraf’s plane from landing in Pakistan after dismissing the general before the 1999 coup.

Other Prime Ministers like Benazir Bhutto and most recently Iman Khan have had their tenures cut short for rubbing the wrong way the country’s powerful military, which has ruled Pakistan for over three of the seven decades of its existence.

Khan’s now-scrapped march on the capital Islamabad demanding snap polls was seen as part of his attempt to prevent a 14-party coalition government of almost all major parties from naming army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa’s successor. He vowed not to let Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif pick the successor, claiming it will not be done on merit. 

Shehbaz Sharif named General Syed Asim Munir the chief days before Bajwa’s retirement, ending much speculation over the position as Khan backed off. Munir’s stint as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief ended prematurely within a year after he reportedly fell out with Khan, the then Prime Minister.

Bajwa, who in October announced he will retire a month later and ended speculation that he will seek a third term, got an extension for his second three-year term in 2019 as the head of the world’s sixth-largest army.

Lieutenant-General Nadeem Anjum, the current head of shadowy ISI, claimed in October that Khan unsuccessfully offered Bajwa a ‘lifetime extension’ when the former prime minister faced ouster in March. Anjum made the comments at a rare public appearance for an unprecedented news conference last week.

Anjum rejected Khan’s criticism of the military for plotting his removal in April and backing his opponents. He linked it to their refusal to do illegal or unconstitutional things at Khan’s behest. 

Pakistani media have reported Khan was wary of a Munir and did not want him to become the chief. He was believed to have sought the continuation of Anjum’s predecessor, Faiz Hameed, as the ISI chief and to eventually have him succeed Bajwa.

The disagreement over Hameed’s continuation is believed to have led to Khan’s souring of ties with Bajwa. Khan would earlier insist he was on the same page with the military and that the civil-military ties have never been as harmonious when he was in power.

Khan’s falling out with the military was the latest in a series of such quarrels in the decades-old history of civil-military tensions. Politicians have not always necessarily been at the receiving end.

Bhutto, 37, revolted against Ayub Khan for losing the 1965 war with India ‘at the negotiation table’ two years after the military ruler handpicked the young politician as a minister. Bhutto formed the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and joined a movement, which forced Ayub Khan to hand over power to General Yahya Khan.

The PPP swept the polls that followed in West Pakistan. But Bhutto’s refusal to share power with Awami League, which won the polls in Pakistan’s eastern wing (now Bangladesh), sparked a civil war and led to Bangladesh’s creation in 1971.

Bhutto would succeed Yahya Khan first as the chief martial law administrator, before becoming the president and later the prime minister. He sought to leave nothing to chance by picking Zia, the junior-most eligible officer for the top post. Zia even lacked experience in active combat and had little chance of getting the top job. Zia was involved in the distribution of supplies and provisions during the 1965 India-Pakistan war. He was in Jordan in 1971, quelling a Palestinian revolt, when India dismembered Pakistan.

Bhutto is said to have been impressed by Zia’s submissive behaviour. Zia is once believed to have taken out a cigarette from his pocket only upon Bhutto’s insistence that if he did not so he would have ended up burning his pants after the general hid it upon seeing the politician as a mark of respect.

Zia handpicked Nawaz Sharif at 31 as a minister in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. Sharif rose under Zia’s patronage to first become the Punjab chief minister and the prime minister. Sharif’s problems with the military began in the 1990s and truncated his first term as prime in 1993.  

Sharif appointed Bajwa in November 2016, superseding four officers, three years after returning to power in 2013 following 14 years in the political wilderness. The appointment also backfired as Sharif would accuse Bajwa of pressuring the judiciary when the three-time prime minister was convicted of corruption in 2017 and disqualified from holding public office. He blamed Bajwa for helping Imran Khan come to power. But Sharif backed legislation in 2019 to grant Bajwa an extension after the Supreme Court suspended it.

The tables have since turned with Imran Khan now blaming the military for reinstalling the Sharifs. The roles have reversed. Khan has now emerged as a tougher nut to crack, setting the stage for more tumult in the run-up to the next general election due next year.

Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a journalist and the author of The Other Side of the Divide: A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan

FIFA World Cup: Why England Fans Dressed As Crusaders Touched Raw Nerve

The Crusades were not just any other wars or an ordinary event in world history, but a theologically-justified attempt to erase Islam and the Islamic civilisation

By Sameer Arshad Khatlani

FIFA World Cup security led away two fans wearing chain mail helmets and St George’s cross before England’s opening match against Iran and prompted an anti-discrimination charity to issue a note of caution. The charity noted the dress representing knights or crusaders may be unwelcome in Qatar and the wider Islamic world amid efforts to put the controversy over them to rest. The controversy came hard on the heels of disquiet over racist and Islamophobic scrutiny of the Gulf States over Qatar’s hosting of the region’s first FIFA world cup.

England fans have supported their team dressed as St George, the patron saint depicted as a Crusader warrior. They showed up for FIFA World Cup in Qatar in costumes representing crusaders despite a British Foreign Office travel advisory, which asked fans to familiarise themselves with local sensibilities.

In the wake of the controversy, there have been calls for an environment for fans to openly enjoy what they want to wear. But the matter is far more serious than how it has been characterised. The Crusades were not just any other wars or an ordinary event in world history, but a theologically-justified attempt to erase Islam and the Islamic civilisation. They intended to subjugate the natives through settler colonialism.

The West’s wars in the Middle East and support for Israel have drawn parallels to the Crusades. It has long insisted its policies on the region were not determined by religion. President Donald Trump, however, was more forthright about it. He said he formally recognised Jerusalem, which has much significance in Christian theology and the final events of humankind, as Israel’s capital in 2017 by moving the US Embassy there for evangelical Christians. Bible literalists and conservative Christians believe Jerusalem has to be under Jewish control for Christ’s return. 

The occupation of Jerusalem was as such the main aim of the Crusaders, who captured the city and slaughtered its estimated 40,000 Jewish and Muslim inhabitants on Pope Urban II’s call. The First Crusade ended in 1099 before a Saladin-led Muslim army defeated the Crusaders in the 12th century. The Crusades have since continued to cast a long shadow on the ties between the West and the Muslim world. 

When General Edmund Allenby entered Jerusalem after the Ottoman defeat in Palestine in 1917 to pave the way for the expulsion of Palestinians for Israel’s creation, the British press compared him to Crusader king Richard the Lionheart. In 1920, French General Henri Gouraud stood in front of Saladin’s grave when France captured Damascus and said: ‘Awake, Saladin – we have returned.’ Decades later, Bosnian Serb war criminal Ratko Mladic, who considered himself a crusading defender of the Serbs, massacred at least 8,000 Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica to cleanse Bosnia of Muslims in 1995.

The Crusades have shaped the West’s blinkered view of Islam and adversarial policies towards the Muslim world. The Western distortions of the Prophet Muhammad, which have been a major source of friction between the two sides, date back to the Crusades. 

Jonathan Lyons has painstakingly documented 1,000 years of anti-Muslim ideas and images representing a totalising narrative about Islam in the West in his book Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism. He has blamed this for the West’s failure in having any meaningful or productive engagement with Muslims. Lyons writes the ideas formulated in the medieval halls of the Roman Curia and courts of the European Crusaders have been perfected in the newsrooms of TV networks such as Fox News. The ideas have come in handy for demagogues, who have fuelled Islamophobia to capture power globally.

George W Bush, who invaded Iraq in 2003 on the pretext of non-existent weapons of mass destruction leaving, directly and indirectly, left half a million Iraqis dead, spoke about Crusade. He believed his presidency was part of a divine plan. Bush told a friend that he believed God wanted him to run for president and was convinced he was following God’s will as the leader of a global war against evil. He wanted the US to lead a liberating Crusade in the Middle East and believed this call of history had come to the right country.

Columnist James Carroll argued in 2018 that Bush’s use of the term Crusade was not a ‘stumble, however inadvertent’ and insisted it was a ‘crystal-clear declaration of purpose that would soon be aided and abetted by a fervent evangelical cohort within the US military, already primed for holy war.’ Carroll noted it was now possible to see the havoc Bush’s crusade was wreaking across much of the globe, citing the example of the devastation caused in Iraq, Afghanistan Syria, and Yemen. He wrote Europe was increasingly politically destabilised by refugee flows from the conflicts Bush spawned.

Crusades have also long fascinated the far right in the West. Three members of a group calling itself ‘The Crusaders’ were in January 2019 sentenced to 81 years in prison for plotting the mass slaughter of Muslims in Kansas in America’s mid-west. ‘The Crusaders’ collected weapons and tried to manufacture or buy explosives with an aim to target an apartment complex housing Somalian Muslim refugees. The plot was hatched ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. American secret agents foiled it by infiltrating and bugging the group’s communications. They intercepted their conversations about plans for car bombing and shooting Muslims ‘with arrows dipped in pig blood.’

In a Time magazine piece on the sentencing of members of the group in October 2019, Dan Jones noted the ‘square-limbed crusader cross, often accompanied by the Latin phrase Deus Vult (God Wills It – a catchphrase shouted by warriors during the First Crusade in 1095 -1099AD) is a symbol often spotted on white supremacist marches.’ The supremacist website The Daily Stormer’s masthead has a cartoon of a crusader knight and the phrase Deus Vult. 

A 35-year-old man was arrested in the American city of Seattle in September 2019 for sending racist and threatening messages to a woman on Facebook. He thanked God that President Trump was the President as he threatened to ‘launch a Racial War and Crusade.’ The man wanted to send black people, Hispanics, and Muslims to concentration camps. Invoking Adolf Hitler, he threatened to cut out the woman’s heart to eat it and called for the death of all Hispanics.

The assault rifles and automatic shotguns Brenton Tarrant used to kill worshipers at mosques in New Zealand’s Christchurch in March 2019 were painted with references to Crusaders. Tarrant emailed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern a manifesto calling the slaughter an act of revenge against Islam. The manifesto also quoted Urban II, who called for the First Crusade. ‘ASK YOURSELF, WHAT WOULD POPE URBAN DO? he asked in bold letters. Tarrant carved on his guns the names of Alexandre Bissonette, who attacked a mosque in Canada’s Quebec in 2017, and Luca Traini, the attackers of African migrants a year later in Italy. 

Anders Behring Breivik, who claimed there was a Marxist Islamic takeover of Europe and killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, thought he was part of a Crusade, underlining a clear and present danger of harm such ideas continue to pose. Global sporting events have a great unifying power to bring the world together and to promote peaceful co-existence. The last thing we need is the promotion of ideas such as the Crusades howsoever inadvertent as they have caused among the worst atrocities in human history. And ignorance cannot be an excuse.

Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a journalist and the author of The Other Side of the Divide: A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan

Iqbal Championed Their Cause, Made Way To Kashmiri Hearts

The poet philosopher’s biographer, Iqbal Singh Sevea, writes the plight of the Kashmiri Muslims, and memories of his family’s painful migration from Srinagar shaped Iqbal’s views on the disempowerment of Muslims 

By Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Abbaji, my grandfather Muhammad Sharif Khatlani, grew up in poverty. A square meal was a privilege most people around him did not have in Kashmir during his childhood. Abbaji came into his own in Lahore, which unlike Kashmir was culturally rich and prosperous. Lahore’s enabling atmosphere shaped him as a student in the 1930s. Abbaji dabbled in journalism in the Paris of the East. The fortune of seeing poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal in his flesh and blood was the highlight of Abbaji’s stay in Lahore.

Iqbal inspired and guided young Kashmiris in Lahore, the city that offered them opportunities while they faced exclusion from equal opportunities in education and employment. He was deeply attached to Kashmir; the land of his forebears. Iqbal’s advocacy of the rights of Kashmiri during the Dogra rule before 1947 made him a hero of the marginalized Kashmiri Muslims of Abbaji’s generation. 

Iqbal, who lived and died in the present-day Punjab province of Pakistan, is to Kashmiris what Tagore is to Bengalis. He was proud of his Kashmiri lineage and spoke out against the serfdom Kashmir’s rulers condemned their majority Muslim subjects. Schools, landmarks, parks, and the main library of Kashmir’s oldest university are named after Iqbal and memorialize him in his land of ancestors.

Iqbal’s biographer, Iqbal Singh Sevea, writes the plight of the Kashmiri Muslims, and memories of his family’s painful migration from Srinagar shaped his views on the disempowerment of Muslims. He associated himself with the Anjuman Kashmiri Musalmanan (Society of Kashmiri Muslims), which highlighted the problems of Kashmiris. He presided over the Kashmir Committee to unite Kashmiris to resist the Dogra rulers.

The resistance was boosted after the opening of the Srinagar–Rawalpindi road in the early 19th. The connectivity allowed Kashmiri Muslims to travel to Punjab in large numbers for education. Influential Kashmiris settled in Punjab offered them scholarships and formed the All-India Kashmir Muslim Conference in the 1930s to offset the Dogra regime’s exclusionary policies towards Muslims in education and jobs.

Kashmir’s iconic leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was among those who were educated in Lahore. Abdullah aspired to become a doctor but there were no medical colleges in Kashmir then. Eligible candidates could study medicine in British India but only if the state funded them. The Dogra rulers’ policy of favouring Hindus for scholarship programmes dashed his hopes of becoming a doctor. Abdullah’s application to enroll at a Jammu college was rejected for speaking up for the right to education for Kashmiri Muslims.

Abdullah was eventually forced to go to Lahore to get an undergraduate degree. Iqbal greatly influenced him there. Abdullah felt ‘transported into a strange world, in earshot of the trumpet of Israel’ when he heard Iqbal speak out against the plight of the Kashmiri Muslims. 

The rejection of Abdullah’s candidature for civil services and the realization that he could not aspire to be more than a schoolteacher turned out to be the last straw. In the book Incarnations, which profiles notable Indians down the ages, author Sunil Khilnani writes about how some educated Muslims got around the bias ‘by sucking up but Abdullah was repelled by the idea of ingratiating himself with his oppressors’. He was convinced that the ‘ill-treatment of Muslims was an outcome of religious prejudice’. He was determined to get rid of it.

Abdullah chose to return to Kashmir to lead the resistance against the monarchy. Many Kashmiris stayed back in Punjab, where the community’s influence grew after the Partition. Mian Salahuddin, a two-time parliament member in the 1960s, was the most influential Kashmiri politician before the emergence of Nawaz Sharif in the 1980s.

Sharif, whose Kashmiri family was uprooted from East Punjab and settled in Lahore after partition, went on to become the prime minister thrice. His brother, Shahbaz Sharif, is now the prime minister. Kashmiris occupy important positions in his federal cabinet.

A family of Kashmiri origins owns Pakistan’s biggest Jang Media Group. Kashmiris have held also top positions in the military and bureaucracy. To name a few, Ali Azmat of the iconic Junoon rock band is of Kashmiri origin. So are Sana Mir and Nida Dar, the most recognisable Pakistani women cricketers.           

Iqbal’s grandson, Mian Yousuf Salahuddin, another prominent Kashmiri, lives in his family’s expansive, 350-year-old Barood Khana haveli, in Lahore’s walled city. It is a must-see place for visitors because of its association with the poet-philosopher. His ancestors migrated to Sialkot from Kashmir sometime in the middle of the 19th century.

In the 17th century, the haveli used to be one of Lahore’s biggest Mughal ammunition stores. Salahuddin’s great-grandfather, Mian Karim Buksh, bought it in 1870 to match his stature as one of Lahore’s wealthiest people. His family was lucky enough to have managed to bring their gold with them from Kashmir. They invested it in property and flourished. At one point, they owned large parts of Lahore.

Buksh made a fortune with his construction business. His success mirrored the change of fortunes for Kashmiris in Punjab. The Kashmiri community has emerged over the centuries among the powerful urban groups in Pakistan’s Punjab. They have a strong presence in places like Gujrat, Gujranwala, Lahore, and Sialkot.

Kashmiris have held key positions of power in Lahore since they began to migrate to Punjab in the 19th century to escape the oppressive rule back home. A large number of them began acquiring influential positions in cities like Sialkot, Amritsar, Ludhiana, and Lahore by the early 20th century and began actively supporting the struggle in Kashmir against the Dogra rulers.

Soap manufacturer and contractor Muhammad Sultan, a Kashmiri, was part of Lahore’s first municipal committee in 1862. Salahuddin’s grandfather, Mian Amiruddin, a member of the Punjab assembly, went on to become the first Muslim mayor of Lahore in 1931. The community has since continued to grow from strength to strength.

Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a journalist and the author of The Other Side of the Divide: A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan

Pakistani Leaders Have Been Disliked In India but Sharif Is An Exception

Three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been consistent in his friendly approach towards India, which began in the 1990s when he came into his own after starting his career as military ruler Zia-ul-Haq’s protégé

Narendra Modi and Imran Khan at a Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Kyrgyzstan in 2019.

By Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Cricket has been among the few common grounds through decades of mostly hostile ties between India and Pakistan, which have fought four wars over the 70 years of their existence as nation-states. Imran Khan, Pakistan’s greatest cricketer ever, once epitomized the potential of sport in bridging divides. A debonair sportsman, Khan enjoyed a fan following in India that no Pakistani could now dream of emulating.

A part of Khan’s appeal stemmed from his background. Khan came from the upper-class westernized elite, which have admired the idea of India that its secular and democratic founding fathers articulated. The admiration was reflected in his early days as the Prime Minister until it perhaps became clear to him that India has fundamentally changed under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s rule.

The BJP leadership has no time or inclination for the niceties of their secularist predecessors. It has reshaped India to the extent that there are now no common grounds between the two countries. Khan was particularly intemperate towards India after the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in August 2019 and the prolonged siege of the region. In his fiery speeches, he repeatedly referred to the origins of the BJP’s parent organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He highlighted at international fora how RSS drew inspiration from the Nazis in the 1940s and linked it to the situation of India’s 200 million Muslim minority.

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Khan’s belligerence brought him into the crosshairs of BJP-RSS’s well-oiled cyber warriors, and much of India’s media allied to the country’s ruling establishment. His critics, including Khan’s second wife, were given generous space and airtime to essentially dig out dirt on him and project him negatively much like Indian opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Khan was now no exception and has joined the long list of Pakistan politicians, who have been seen as villains in India. The list includes Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and Benazir Bhutto. 

Pakistani leaders are more unpopular in India when they are in power. Jinnah tops the list of villains in India as Pakistan’s originator. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is known in India for talking about a 1000-war and for nurturing Pakistan’s atomic programme for parity with India. He vowed to make the bomb even if they had to eat grass. Benazir Bhutto is blamed for her role in the insurrection against India in Kashmir in the late 1980s. She was back in the news in India after a speech for her on Kashmir featured in a controversial Indian film accused of stoking hatred.

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In a speech at the UN announcing the end of the 1965 India-Pakistan war, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto resolved to fight for his country’s honour and blamed India for aggression. Bhutto warned they have the resolve, the will to fight for a ‘righteous cause’ irrespective of Pakistan’s size and resources. Benazir Bhutto, who was also articulate and western-educated like most of her predecessors and Khan, resorted to rhetoric against India in her early years of politics before India ceased to be relevant to electoral politics in Pakistan. Unlike them, three-time prime minister and Khan’s archrival Nawaz Sharif has been consistent in his conciliatory approach towards India.

Sharif’s brother, Shehbaz, replaced Khan as the Prime Minister in April 2022. He was expected to continue Sharif’s conciliatory approach to India but has had little breating space as Khan’s popularity has soared since his ouster. Khan has swept by-polls and taken to the streets demanding fresh polls. India will prefer to see Khan out of power even as New Delhi has no direct influence over Pakistan’s domestic politics.

Modi flew to Lahore to meet Sharif in 2015.

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Sharif’s friendly approach to New Delhi began in the 1990s when he came into his own after starting his career as military ruler Zia-ul-Haq’s protégé. Zia, who is seen to be the architect of anti-India insurgencies in Kashmir and the Indian side of Punjab, handpicked Sharif and ensured his rise as a national leader while he was still in his 30s. He tried to replicate his success against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan with the US help in Kashmir and Punjab.

Zia’s protégé Sharif sought to turn his mentor’s policy towards India on its head and went on to sign the Lahore Declaration with his Indian counterpart, Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999. Vajpayee travelled to Pakistan to sign the pact for peaceful co-existence years after his BJP led a movement for the demolition of a 16th-century mosque, which triggered one of the worst episodes of anti-Muslim violence and left thousands dead.

Sharif has repeatedly denounced the 1999 Kargil war between India and Pakistan, which was fought months after the signing of the declaration. He maintained that the Pakistan Army planned the war without his knowledge and continued his conciliatory policy while he was in exile after his removal from power following a military coup in October 1999. Sharif backed unilateral visa-free travel for Indians ahead of the 2013 polls in Pakistan. He also called for demilitarisation of the world’s highest battlefield—Siachen Glacier—while linking his quest for peace with India to Pakistan’s prosperity. 

In its manifesto, Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or PML (N) promised special priority to a peaceful settlement of outstanding issues with New Delhi while proposing to connect India with Afghanistan, Iran, and other energy-rich Central Asian republics via Pakistan. PML (N)’s promises came even as Islamabad saw India’s presence in Afghanistan before the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul in 2012 with suspicion and accused New Delhi of using the Afghan territory to stoke separatism in Pakistan.

Sharif said he can even visit India without an invitation after his victory in the 2013 polls, which he saw as an endorsement of his conciliatory approach towards India. Sharif called his quest for peace with India ‘the cardinal principle’ of his foreign policy in his Independence Day speech in August 2014.

Months earlier, Sharif flew to New Delhi to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony after the Indian leader was voted to power for the first time. He ended a tradition of visiting Pakistani leaders by refusing to meet Kashmiri separatists as per the wishes of his hosts.

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Sharif even developed a good personal rapport with Modi, who has used anti-Pakistan rhetoric to win elections since his days as a provincial leader in the western Indian state of Gujarat. This ensured a short-lived turnaround in the bilateral ties when Modi flew to Lahore to meet Sharif in 2015. Modi embraced Sharif at the Lahore airport’s tarmac before they walked hand in hand. The meeting held out hope for better ties. 

Sharif and Modi risked the meeting despite much baggage. Modi was banned from entering the US until he became the Prime Minister a year earlier on the grounds of violating religious freedom over his alleged role in the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 when he was the chief minister. Sharif’s risk was also greater as he hosted Modi in the absence of his national security advisor and foreign ministry officials. He drew flak for his contempt for institutional procedures as Pakistan is said to have no record of the meeting.   

Sharif’s attacks on Pakistan’s military establishment have gained him much admiration in India. They have earned him laudatory coverage in the Indian press, which largely sticks to the state’s line on defence and foreign affairs. The Indian media has amplified his criticism of Pakistan’s army’s leadership as part of a campaign against Imran Khan’s government. They have echoed the line that the army propped up Khan and had a role in the removal of Sharif, who was disqualified in 2017 after his family was found to have bought properties in upscale London through illegally obtained money through offshore holdings.

Sharif has been portrayed as a champion of democracy even as he repeatedly failed democratic tests during his time in power by slandering his rival, Benazir Bhutto, in the 1990s with organized campaigns to malign her. Jemina, Imran Khan’s first wife, faced a vicious anti-Semitic campaign allegedly at Sharif’s behest in the 1990s. Sharif harassed the media and got journalist Najam Sethi arrested. He influenced the judiciary to get his rivals convicted. His party attacked the Supreme Court. Sharif has also faced criticism for promoting dynastic politics and nepotism.

Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a journalist and the author of The Other Side of the Divide: A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan