A view of Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara
A view of Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara

Strange as it may seem in today’s times of bitter animosity between India and Pakistan, there are people across the border who want to change the current narrative. Many are tired of the bitter animosity which has held the two nations hostage even after 72 years of independence.

A good way to start for the Indian government is to speak up for those considered Delhi’s friends or more accurately those who wish to bury the hatchet. Pakistan continues to highlight human rights abuse in Kashmir. Delhi also talks about Pakistan’s handling of Balochistan and the fate of its Sikh minorities.

Yet so far India has never commented on Pakistan’s internal political process. A massive azai march led by hard line cleric, Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam(JUI-F) in Islamabad in the beginning of the month, brought together the squabbling opposition leaders. Imran Khan had perfected the art of protest marches which he used frequently to ask for Nawaz Sharif’s resignation.

However Fazlur Rehman’s current azadi protests, has not garnered the kind of crowds that Imran Khan could muster. Imran was backed by the army as it wanted Nawaz Sharif to quit.

Today the army has its own man in power and is certainly not getting any traction from the all powerful armed forces. Fazlur Rehman want’s Imran Khan to quit office as he claims that elections were not free and fair. So far while Reham’s march has been widely reported in India, but the government has not commented.

Perhaps the time has come to change this. A top Indian foreign policy honcho Raja Mohan had raised the issue recently. Should India speak up for its friends in Pakistan? Personally, I believe we should. It will help build stakes in Pakistan and embarrass the army backed current dispensation.

Across the world governments often make use of the opposition to embarrass the powers that be. In Pakistan, the military and Prime Minister Imran Khan who has the full backing of the army top brass should be called out on their treatment of politicians like Nawaz Sharif. India could well use this to needle the powerful in Pakistan.

One politician who had always wanted good ties with India is Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz Sharif. Perhaps as an industrialist and a man from Punjab, he realised the importance of business ties with India.

During the 1997 national elections in Pakistan, Sharif campaigned publicly for better relations with Delhi and he got the support of the business community of Punjab and Sindh. He won a decisive victory over incumbent Benazir Bhutto. Later he followed this up by the Lahore bus diplomacy with India’s BJP PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Delhi should speak out against the treatment being meted out to the ailing former prime minister. Though originally a protégé of military dictator Zia Ul Haque, General Musharraff’s bloodless coup which ousted him from power, ensured that Sharif became deeply suspicious of Pakistan’s army.

His health is in precarious condition after tough prison conditions imposed on him by a court willing to take the army line. Imran Khan realising that he may be blamed for the harsh treatment in case Sharif died, had already said life and death are not in his hands. He had said that no one can give an assurance on their own life, let alone on someone else's, as he asserted that his government was providing the best possible medical facilities to Sharif.

Imran Khan’s reputation is that of a clean politician, who is keen on building corruption-free Pakistan. With that pretext, he is going after his political rivals, both former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and heir apparent Mariam Sharif and his brother the former chief minister of Punjab Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League.

His other political rival, the Pakistan People’s Party leader and husband of former PM Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari, is also behind bars on corruption charges.

This is all fine. But no one from the army has been fingered in the general crackdown. The Pakistan army, it is well known run several businesses and all senior army officers get land at cheap rates to build homes. The army is also famous for land grabs in Pakistan.

Both Sharif and Zardari may be corrupt but Sharif’s major sin is not corruption but taking on the powerful armed forces. In fact he was forced to step down mid-way in his term because the army wanted him out. Once Sharif tried to assert his democratic rights as an elected PM, he was doomed.

Cyril Almeida, the journalist from Dawn who reported that the army was told to back off and blamed by the the civilian government for pussy-footing with terror groups, was in all sorts of trouble. He has now left Dawn. The newspaper was targeted by the military. And ofcourse Nawaz Sharif’s days were numbered.

The army began backing Imran Khan, who relentlessly attacked the government and his jalsa brought Pakistan to a near stand still. The judiciary also played ball with the army and quickly indicted Nawaz Sharif on corruption charges.

India may gain by speaking up for Sharif. Whether Sharif would benefit from it is another question.

Seema Guha is a senior journalist with expertise in foreign policy and international affairs.

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