“The listeners give energy to the speaker,” says a Persian proverb. Perhaps, it was some tacit support from the audience that kept visiting Pakistani Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif going despite the spirited effort of Ahmar Mustikhan—shouting “Free Baluchistan” and accused him of being a “friend of Bin Laden”—to throw him off script in the speech at the US Institute of Peace (USIP) on October 23, 2015. Despite his impoliteness, it was nice that the irate heckler was not hurling shoes; lucky for PM Sharif. Good things come to those who are patient, it is said. And, PM Sharif patiently waited for Mustikhan to be ejected from the auditorium by muscular policemen. While introducing PM Sharif, USIP President Nancy Lindborg informed the audience that he is the first person in Pakistan’s history to serve as Prime Minister for three times. Regardless of one’s view about him, and notwithstanding the fact that he could not complete his earlier two terms, PM Sharif deserves the respect afforded to him during his recent US visit. From the Twitter messages and email traffic, enthusiasm amongst PM Sharif’s supporters and criticism from his opponents of Pakistani origin remained generally what was expected. In the eyes of his supporters, PM Sharif can do no wrong. Likewise, no matter how well PM Sharif did during his US visit, his opponents still will disapprove and consider him a cheat. But, it was surprising to discover strong approval of PM Sharif’s performance from some who were previously supporters of his opposition. From a Pakistani perspective, PM Sharif seemed to have covered all the bases that he was supposed to - making a pitch for more investments in Pakistan while lauding the performance of the Karachi Stock Market, assuring human rights advocates that he will safeguard the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and dangling a carrot for US companies to be able to participate in the opportunities to come from the $48 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project. Indulging in a sort of charm offensive PM Sharif gifted some pictures of President Obama’s mother during her visits to Pakistan. “War against terrorism, continued presence of terrorist safe havens was one of the major topics of discussion with the visiting Pakistani leader,” Pakistan’s daily Dawn quoted US Senator Kaine on November 1, 2015 about his remarks to at a meeting with Defense Writers Group in Washington. His remarks were based on the meeting with PM Sharif during his US visit. “My sense is that Pakistan is now really going after enclaves of terrorists in North Waziristan and other areas. They are sincerely doing it,” Senator Kaine continued. Michael Kugelman, a Woodrow Wilson Institute scholar, noted in the Wall Street Journal on October 23, 2015 that the “joint statement issued after his meeting with Obama reiterated long-standing pledges of cooperation and announced a series of modest though diverse initiatives in areas ranging from clean energy to girl’s education.” Additionally, the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan provided something to show for. However, there were “no splashy headlines or substantive outcomes—just as expected,” Kugelman said. Ironically, on the same day of the speech, the Wall Street Journal carried a headline – “Powerful Pakistan General Eclipses Prime Minister ‘Soldier-Statesman’ has become a cult here for battling terrorism, criminal gangs.” This was perhaps in recognition of the military’s pacification of Karachi – a megacity where many languages were spoken through the barrel of a gun. Visits of key Pakistani leaders, civilian or military, certainly provide valuable insight into the ebbs and flows of this bilateral relationship between two longstanding allies. But, a more interesting and promising development is the Emerging Leaders of Pakistan (ELP) Fellowship program announced in late September 2015 by the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, US Embassy Islamabad and the Meridian International Center. The stories of these emerging young leaders deserve attention. For instance, after surviving a suicide attack Hussain Haider from Chakwal, Punjab, “founded Beydaar Society, an organization raising a voice for basic human rights, freedom of speech, and quality education for all.” Another emerging leader is Syed Azhar Shah from Mardan who “believes in the power of technology to address the humanitarian crises afflicting his country.” Rafia Farooqui from Karachi, Sind, is a social activist and aspiring water expert in Pakistan. Her goal is to “work towards not only creating awareness but also executing actionable ideas to prevent Pakistan from becoming more water-scarce.” The next generation of Pakistani leaders visiting Washington in late October presented their views at the Atlantic Council. Each ELP provides a fresh perspective and something that the listeners must lend their ears to.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.