Hope Tempered by Caution
Nawaz Sharif has served twice as Prime Minister of Pakistan. His previous record on corruption was - well, Pakistani, which is not too strong a recommendation.
And diminishing the role of the military and the super powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, similar to our CIA, are tougher challenges for him this time around - his last term ended with a military coup. His record on curtailing the power of militant jihadist radicals has been inconsistent. History shows that Sharif originally supported the Taliban in Afghanistan to aid Pakistan and opposes drone strikes. He was also protected by the Pakistani Taliban who circumvented pre-election attacks on Sharif's party, his candidates and political rallies - indicating a certain coziness here.
(The general wisdom is that he should not try and mitigate issues with the Afghan Taliban - especially with the recent debacle of setting up an office, consulate in Qatar for the Taliban - but rather leave that to the Afghans to resolve.)
But this time, Sharif seems to have a clear agenda with a commitment to democracy, the economy and an exit strategy for the military which ruled the country for 40 years. He also has clear cut challenges: eradicating radical Islamist terrorism, while creating peace and changing the economic dynamic with India. Many of our Pakistani friends envision this as a "reverse partition" aiming for an eventual South Asian Economic Union and a boon for the Indo-Pak-Bangladeshi economies.
But if Sharif is going to play it differently this time, he's going to need the help of strong Pakistani women - I'm giving the microphone to two of them now.
An Exciting New Vision of Indo-Pak Rapprochement
Sherry Rehman, who until recently was Pakistan's envoy to the US, excites me with her refreshing perspective on Indo-Pak politics. She envisions a dynamic game plan for Indo-Pak convergence and recently gave a talk in New Delhi on "Regional Peace and the Strategic Imagination." She outlined a revitalized vision for rapprochement between India and Pakistan who really are two peas in a pod - in heart, mind and soul. "Rapprochement" is Ms Rehman's mantra: what others view as a blockage, such as, the Line of Control in Kashmir, she views as "a spur to dialogue." She's bold and asks: "The question is, are we going to be prisoners or leaders of our destiny?" And she opines: "Countries that do business with each other don't relish going to war with each other." So true. She speaks to India and Pakistan turning to each other and reaping a huge peace dividend and says boldly: "Strategic empathy is the need of the hour from India, not policy drift.... Because otherwise the enemies of peace score a victory."
Beyond Politics: Education and Culture
Malala Yousufzai is an inspiring 16 year old Pakistani girl who was attacked viciously by the Taliban in October 2012 - for loving and embracing education. Medically treated both in Pakistan and England, she has recovered miraculously and addressed 500 youth advocates at the United Nations in New York on July 12, her birthday, commemorated as "Malala Day." Malala is no ordinary teenager - her conduct after the vicious attack has earned her a reputation as the poster teenager for education. Direct and unflinching, she addressed her youth audience. "Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first".
"One of the most stunning facts about Malala is her passion for non- violence because she said she has no revenge for the man who shot her and would not shoot the Talib who tried to assassinate her even is she had a gun in hand. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa." Stay tuned to this young woman
Nick Kristoff astutely reminds us that "Change can come not only from a bomb but also from a girl with a school book studying under a tree or in a mosque." And she can make paradigm shifts in her village, her slum, her city. "She will have fewer children, be more likely to hold a job and exercise more influence; her brothers and her children will be less likely to join the Taliban".... And more likely to change the cultural and social norms, contributing to peace.
So can Nawaz Sharif, a traditional patriarchal, male Punjabi politician recognize the insights of strong Pakistani women like Sherry Rehman and Malala? Can he embrace non-violence, women's education and a new relationship with India?
A lot rides on the answer.
Khadijah's daughters is a blog by Shahnaz Chinoy Taplin, board president of Invest in Muslim Women, a non-profit project of the Global Fund for Women. Invest in Muslim Women focuses on the economic empowerment of Muslim women, justice and peace. The blog is inspired by Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad's first wife and the quintessential role model for Muslim women. She was the first convert to Islam, the first Muslim woman entrepreneur, a globalist and a feminist.