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India Hopes for Better Ties with Pakistan

  • Anjana Pasricha

India's foreign minister Salman Khurshid during an interview with Reuters in Santiago, February 5, 2013 file photo.

India's foreign minister Salman Khurshid during an interview with Reuters in Santiago, February 5, 2013 file photo.

With former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appearing set to take power in Pakistan, India has expressed hope that relations with its arch rival will improve, while Afghanistan is hoping for more cooperation in ending the Taliban insurgency.

As news emerged in that Nawaz Sharif was headed to become Pakistan’s prime minister for a third term, Indian foreign minister, Salman Khurshid sounded a note of optimism.

Khurshid said he hopes India can continue to have good relations and boost ties with Pakistan if Sharif comes to power.

Positive assurances

The Indian foreign minister says that statements by Sharif to the media indicate New Delhi can have faith his initiatives will be positive and India can respond accordingly.

In the run up to the parliamentary elections, Sharif made several assurances that struck the right note in New Delhi. He told Indian media that if elected, he will work to normalize ties with Pakistan's bigger neighbor. He said the two countries have issues to resolve, but says there are examples of countries opposed to each other that have resolved more difficult problems.

The veteran Pakistani leader has said he will not allow militant groups to mount attacks on India from Pakistan - a repeated demand by New Delhi. He has promised a joint investigation into Indian allegations that Pakistani intelligence agencies played a role in the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks in India.

Relations between India and Pakistan nosedived in after those attacks. Although they are improving now, the relationship is still dogged by suspicion.

But Indian analysts caution against expecting swift improvement. They point out any move on Sharif’s part to establish friendlier ties with India will only bear fruit if it is backed by the military, which continues to be a powerful player in Pakistan.

India and Pakistan’s competing claims to the Himalayan territory of Kashmir lie at the heart of their often bitter ties, and have triggered two of their three wars.

But Sharif’s victory was welcomed in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The chief minister of the India's Jammu and Kashmir state, Omar Abdullah, urged the Indian prime minister to extend a hand of friendship to Nawaz Sharif so that Kashmiris can benefit.

He says until the two countries have friendly ties, the region can build roads, schools and bridges, but the core dispute between two countries will remain unaddressed.

Afghan reaction

Pakistan’s western neighbor, Afghanistan, also expressed hope Pakistan’s new government will help it end the Taliban insurgency it has been battling for more than a decade. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the two countries need to cooperate to be saved from the menace of terrorism and to root out terrorist sanctuaries.

Sharif’s victory was not just welcomed by the political class in India. There were also jubilant celebrations in a small Indian village, Jatti Umra, in the northern Punjab state where Nawaz Sharif’s family lived before migrating to the Pakistani city of Lahore before the two countries were partitioned in 1947.

An elderly resident, Massa Singh, says the villagers have been praying for Sharif’s success. He says villagers are very happy because Sharif has made the village proud.

Like others in India, this tiny village too is hoping for an easier chapter in the uneasy ties between the two countries.