The Yomiuri Shimbun June 8, 2013
Pakistan must improve relations with U.S. for regional stability
If political instability is to continue in Pakistan, on the frontline of the United States’ war against terrorism, regional stability is almost hopeless.
Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister of the country and the leader of the largest opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which won the May general election, was elected as prime minister after his party won support from many independents to gain a majority in the National Assembly.
In a country that has seen repeated coups, a military government did not come into power again and a peaceful administrative change was realized. This shows the country’s democratization movement has further taken root.
The winning factor for Sharif was that he criticized the administration of President Asif Ali Zardari as blindly following the United States and succeeded in currying favor with anti-U.S. voters.
Two years ago the United States killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, who was hiding in Pakistan, without informing the Zardari administration of the attack. In addition, the United States continues drone bombings against Taliban armed antigovernment rebels in areas bordering Afghanistan.
In his inauguration address, Sharif emphasized, “The drone attacks must now stop.” However, he avoided naming the United States in the speech. We think he is trying to mend relations with the United States, which extends the most assistance to Pakistan, while considering the anti-U.S. sentiment strongly rooted in the nation.
Sharif’s leadership test
The U.S. military’s withdrawal deadline from Afghanistan is the end of next year. Will it be possible for Pakistan to improve the security situation in the country, which is aggravated by the terrorism of the armed rebels, by the deadline and contribute to regional stability?
Sharif’s leadership ability is now under scrutiny. To demonstrate strong leadership, it is critical for him to establish a relationship of mutual trust with the military forces, which have been engaged in operations to clear out the rebels.
Sharif emphasized during his campaign the importance of having dialogues with the Taliban rebels. However, the Taliban refused to enter into dialogue with the Sharif administration because one of its top commanders was killed in a recent U.S. drone attack. The future of the policy of holding dialogues faces a difficult challenge.
Relations with India, a neighbor Pakistan has fought in three wars, have been rocky. We hope tensions between India and Pakistan, which both have nuclear weapons, will ease as soon as possible.
Balanced diplomacy key
Meanwhile, Sharif has also announced a plan to complete the construction of a road and a railway network connecting Gwadar Port, a strategically important facility, with China, with assistance from that country.
It is important for Pakistan to improve relations with the United States and India, while not overly strengthening relations with China further, to develop a well-balanced diplomacy.
It is also an urgent task for the country to boost the economy. With a low economic growth rate of less than 4 percent a year, the country’s foreign currency reserves have sharply declined. Power shortages are also a serious problem. Expectations are running high for Sharif, a former business owner with experience tackling the country’s economic reforms, to restart a suspended International Monetary Fund loan package.
The Japanese government needs to extend indirect support for the country’s economic reconstruction, by deepening cooperation with the country in such ways as helping to provide a stable supply of electricity.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2013)