Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Indian media's cautious optimism on General Sharif

Indian media's cautious optimism on General Sharif
Published 3 Dec 2013 

The last time Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif successfully appointed a new chief of army, that chief — General Pervez Musharraf — started the Kargil war against India less than six months later. That's why Delhi was watching with interest as Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani handed command to his successor General Raheel Sharif (pictured) on Friday, after six turbulent years in charge.

General Sharif's official army profile notes, with characteristic pomposity, that while Inspector General Training and Evaluation his 'stewardship resulted in fructification of Pakistan Army's operational thought and doctrinal response to the much vaunted Cold Start [limited war] doctrine of Indian Army'. Given that Pakistan's response has consisted mostly of a series of war games and emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons, one might expect that Indian commentators would be wary. [fold]

But despite the Line of Control being at its most violent in a decade, Indian writing has largely focused on General Sharif's role in orienting Pakistan's army towards the internal threat from militants.

As a result of India's thin media presence inside Pakistan, most of these accounts relied heavily on Pakistani reports or Western news agencies. Ajai Shukla pointed out in the Business Standard that while General Sharif headed up the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul, 'he shifted the emphasis of training from conventional warfare (ie. against India) to asymmetric warfare (ie. counter terrorism)', following the tone set by his predecessor.

The Times of India called him 'a moderate and an old India hand'. India Today acknowledged that 'Sharif considers the militant threat inside Pakistan as important as the strategic tussle with India'. Praveen Swami, writing in The Hindu, quoted former Indian spy Rana Banerjee as saying that 'the biggest challenge before General Sharif is to find a way to deal with the existential threats posed by the what is evidently a very divided Pakistan army'.

Very few accounts addressed the question of General Sharif's attitude towards his prime minister's interest in improving ties with India. But it does seem as though the Indian press are willing to give him a chance.

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