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What Does Shehbaz Sharif's Return as Pakistan Prime Minister Mean for India?

© AFP 2023 RIZWAN TABASSUMMen watch Pakistan's newly sworn-in Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on a television, in Karachi on March 4, 2024.
Men watch Pakistan's newly sworn-in Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on a television, in Karachi on March 4, 2024. - Sputnik India, 1920, 04.03.2024
On Monday, Shehbaz Sharif was sworn in as Pakistan's Prime Minister for the second time with improving ties with India among his many challenges. Sputnik India analyzes his return to the neighboring country's top post means for New Delhi.
Following a national election that produced a fractious verdict, with no political party securing a simple majority in the National Assembly, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) or PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif took oath as the premier of Pakistan on Monday.
This was accomplished after the PML-N joined hands with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other smaller allies.

Sharif's Rise Amid Turmoil in Pakistan

Sharif junior's rise to the top echelons of Pakistan's power for the second time in quick succession came amid mounting protests in the country with the opposition led by incarcerated Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has repeatedly claimed that the country's elections were rigged.
On Saturday, the PTI held nationwide protests over the issue across 35 cities.
Against this backdrop, among the foremost challenges that Sharif has to face almost immediately could be to unite the deeply divided Pakistan society and fix its flagging economy that is currently heavily dependent on loans secured from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and friendly nations like China and Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, he would possibly look to have warmer relations with India, given that it would give a big boost to Pakistan's economy.
"Shehbaz Sharif has often stressed on improving ties with neighbors including India. On the eve of taking over as the Prime minister for the second term as well, Sharif reiterated his commitment to mending ties with neighbors based on the principle of equality," Dr. Priyanka Singh, an Associate Fellow at India's premier defense think tank, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) told Sputnik India on Monday.

Shehbaz's Policy Towards India Would Be Reflective of PML-N's Broader Strategy

In the given context, it is safe to assume Shehbaz Sharif’s policy towards India will be reflective of the PML-N's broader stances versus India. India-Pakistan relations under Nawaz Sharif's (Shehbaz Sharif's elder brother and former PM) regimes have shades of good and grey at the same time.
She noted that Nawaz was associated with the Lahore Resolution that envisaged peace between India and Pakistan back in 1999. However, he also has a legacy of making the most unsavoury remarks against India including at forums such as the UN. Therefore, over-expecting Shehbaz Sharif to achieve a breakthrough in ties with India may ultimately disappoint.
"This is also because it is wrong to assume that the Pakistani establishment or the civilian governments take resurrecting ties with India as a challenge or think too much about it for that matter. An anti-India approach is inherent and systemic in Pakistan. Both the military and successive civilian setups have only benefited from it. They would not discard the anti-India approach so easily," Singh added.

India to Maintain Restraint in Relations With Pakistan

The think tanker underlined that India, on its part, has learned to be cautious of any such overtures that are flagged across from Pakistan. This time also India is likely to maintain its restraint and avoid getting engaged with Islamabad till it is sure of the agenda and the true intentions behind such statements.
Nonetheless, Singh reckoned that Shehbaz Sharif's efforts to be seen to be open and serious about engaging with India are aimed at improving Pakistan's image and credibility in the eyes of the world community.
"Facing enormous challenges on the economic front and security situation, Islamabad is frantically working towards an image makeover in order to facilitate the flow of aid and funds from the West and friends in the Middle East," she concluded.
Shehbaz Sharif gestures during a press conference regarding parliamentary elections, in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. - Sputnik India, 1920, 03.03.2024
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