Abstract

The May 2013 parliamentary elections in Pakistan led to a stable government under the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Prime Minister Sharif promised a shift of the country’s India policy. Given his track record, the current pressing economic and security imperatives and recent improvements in Indo-Pakistan trade relations, the popular optimism is understandable and the first steps of rapprochement are to be expected. But structural factors such as growing asymmetries, the persistent role of the army in Pakistan’s India policy and the rigid discourse of ideology undermine the potential for meaningful change. While a paradigm shift is therefore unlikely in the foreseeable future, a rare window of opportunity has opened for the new leadership to assert its authority and incrementally enhance new policies.

Nawaz Sharif’s return to power in Pakistan has renewed hopes for meaningful progress in relations with India—and for good reason. Over the course of his political career, Sharif has been an ardent supporter of peaceful relations with India, a quest that precipitated his downfall in a military coup 14 years ago. Sharif has again promised to open a ‘new chapter’ in relations with India: ‘We will start from where we were interrupted in 1999’, he declared on the eve of the May 11 elections, while pledging to jointly investigate the Mumbai attacks and rein in Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Prime Minister Sharif’s track record and recent pronouncements, which have been applauded by the Indian leadership, leave little doubt about his willingness to chart a progressive course in Pakistan’s relations with India. But can he succeed this time?1

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