Reconnecting Punjab: Shahbaz Sharif’s Mixed Signals

Much of the agenda outlined by Badal and Sharif, however, can only be implemented by the central governments in Delhi and Islamabad. The two leaders therefore agreed to press their national capitals to facilitate deeper cooperation across the border in Punjab.

On its part, Delhi has largely been supportive. But signals from Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of Prime Minister Nawaz, have been some what mixed.

In Amritsar, he was all for economic engagement transcending the Radcliffe Line. In Delhi, where he called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sharif seemed to suggest that Pakistan couldn't move on economic cooperation unless there is progress on other political issues like Kashmir and water disputes.

Delhi is aware that the Pak army continues to wield a veto over cooperation with India and the room for manoeuvre is limited for the civilian leaders. Yet India must encourage the leaders of the Punjab to intensify their engagement. In promoting such a dialogue, Delhi must also strive to improve coordination and consultation with the state leadership in Punjab.

(The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a contributing editor for The Indian Express)

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