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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK

World: South Asia

Analysis: Can Sharif deliver?

Nawaz Sharif seems to have army backing for his policy

By BBC Islamabad Correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones

Nawaz Sharif has returned to Pakistan to face considerable criticism, after agreeing in Washington to take the initiative to defuse the conflict over Kashmir.

Kashmir Conflict
His most vocal opponents are in the militant groups active on the Indian side of the Line of Control. They say that the Sharif-Clinton agreement is a conspiracy intended to deny the Kashmiri people their right to liberation.

In the city of Muzaffarabad, in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, there were demonstrations to denounce the Washington declaration, and effigies of the two leaders were burnt. It is likely that many militants will bear a long-standing grudge against the prime minister.

[ image: Militants fighting in Kashmir have rejected the deal]
Militants fighting in Kashmir have rejected the deal
But they are not alone. Some prominent retired generals have said that Nawaz Sharif has thrown away a situation in which, for once, Pakistan has established itself in a good position on the ground.

What is not clear is to what extent they represent the feelings of those who are still serving in the military.

Army backing

For all the denials, many believe that the military did play a significant role in sparking off the Kargil crisis. And if that is so, there might be some reluctance to withdraw from the Indian side of the Line of Control.

But with President Clinton having sanctioned Nawaz Sharif's pull out policy, the army seems to have little choice but to go along with the new line.

On Friday, the prime minister chairs a session of the defence committee of the cabinet, which brings together the country's top military and political leadership. Observers will be watching closely for the military's statements after that meeting.

Right-wing protest

As for the opposition political parties in Pakistan, they are arguing that Nawaz Sharif has mishandled the Kargil crisis. But with the Mr Sharif's Muslim League majority in parliament firmly in place, those voices will not give the government too much concern.

It may be more worried about public opinion. Many Pakistanis believe the militants deserve all the support they can get, and they are not pleased with the idea that officials will now try to persuade them to give up their current positions.

[ image: Women activists protest the Sharif-Clinton agreement]
Women activists protest the Sharif-Clinton agreement
But, even if there is considerable public opposition to what the prime minister did in Washington, government ministers insist that they are quite relaxed.

They point to the fact that the public demonstrations called for by Jamaat-e-Islami to denounce the Washington Declaration only attracted a few hundred people. And they say that the Prime Minister will allay any public concerns when he addresses the nation on Saturday.

The Pakistan government is arguing that the last two months have considerably advanced the Kashmiri cause. The world has been forced to focus on an issue which many would prefer not to bother with.

Nonetheless, at an international level Pakistan has been widely criticised for its role in Kashmir.

In Washington, Nawaz Sharif effectively backed down. His task now is to convince the Pakistani people that he did extract as much as he could out of the Kargil crisis.

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