Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s likely next prime minister, pledges to curb attacks on India

By By Tom Hussain

McClatchy Foreign Staff (MCT)

Published: Friday, May 10 2013 6:20 a.m. MDT

In this Sunday, April 28, 2013 photo, Pakistan's former Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Sharif speaks during an election rally in Murree, Pakistan. Sharif has criticized the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party for selling out the country’s sovereignty in exchange for U.S. aid and likes to recount how he tested Pakistan’s first nuclear weapon in 1998 despite American pressure.

Anjum Naveed, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ISLAMABAD — With Pakistanis heading to the polls Saturday, the man who is expected to be the country’s next prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has signaled his determination to seize control of policy toward longtime foe India from Pakistan’s overbearing military and prevent militants from staging attacks on India from Pakistani soil.

Pakistan and India have fought two wars since they each gained independence from British rule in 1947, as well as four localized campaigns along the border. The two have a history of mounting covert operations on each other’s soil, notably Pakistan’s use of militant extremist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba to fight what it sees as Indian occupation forces in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, part of which is held by China.

Sharif said that was a chapter in relations with India that he now intended to close.

“If I become the prime minister, I will make sure that Pakistani soil is never used for any such design against India,” Sharif said in an interview with CNN’s India affiliate that aired Sunday.

Sharif is the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, the party that is widely forecast to win the most seats in Saturday’s parliamentary elections. The balloting marks the first time in Pakistan’s history that a democratically elected government completed its term in office and a new government is being selected without the army staging a coup.

The run-up to Saturday’s vote has been violent, with more than 100 people killed in election attacks, staged mostly by the Pakistani Taliban. The Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, has promised Saturday will be “bloody.”

Pakistani intelligence agency reports have warned of attacks on voter lines, and on Thursday, suspected militants kidnapped the youngest son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. The son is running for a provincial legislative seat.

The violence has overshadowed the candidates’ positions on the issues, but Sharif has made it clear that he intends to restart peace negotiations between Pakistan and India that began after the two countries staged tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May 1998.

As part of that, Sharif also has said he plans to hold former military strongman Pervez Musharraf accountable for staging a 1999 covert operation to occupy vacant Indian military mountain posts at Kargil in the disputed Kashmir border region. The operation was conducted by plainclothes paramilitary troops of the Northern Light Infantry — now a regular army unit — and forces from several anti-India militant groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Sharif was the prime minister at the time, but he’s adamant that Musharraf, then the army chief, conducted the Kargil operation without his prior knowledge or approval, and had carried it out to sabotage any diplomatic rapprochement with India.

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Musharraf also kept the operation a secret from other armed services chiefs, Sharif said.

“No (army) corps commander had any knowledge … even the armed forces chiefs complained they had not been informed. I think the (investigating) commission will have to bring out the full truth. This will be an open secret,” he said.

Sharif’s version of events has been backed over the years by many in Pakistan, including Parvez Mehdi Qureshi, who was the commander of the air force. Qureshi has said he refused Musharraf’s request to provide air cover to the infiltration units, saying he would accept such orders only from the prime minister.

The use of air power would have started all-out war, Qureshi said, something that was narrowly averted when President Bill Clinton intervened after Sharif sought his help at a meeting on July 4, 1999, in Washington.

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