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As Nawaz Sharif becomes PM,Kashmir gets voice in Pakistan power circuit

Sharif said his parents would often talk about Kashmir.

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | New Delhi |
June 6, 2013 3:51:31 am

Kashmir may have been missing from the agenda of the elections in Pakistan,but the country’s new government will have Kashmiris in vital positions — beginning with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself.

Sharif,63,who was sworn in for a historic third term on Wednesday,belongs to a family that migrated to Amritsar from South Kashmir’s Anantnag district in the beginning of the last century. Sharif’s close confidant Ishaq Dar,and influential PML (N) leader Khawaja Asif — both of whom are likely to get important positions in the new government — too have roots in Kashmir.

“My father would always tell me that we are from Anantnag. We had migrated to Amritsar from there for business,” Sharif told this correspondent in his office in Lahore’s Model Town last month where he sat with his key associates tracking the results of the election. “And my mother’s family came from Pulwama.”

Sharif said his parents would often talk about Kashmir. “I always wish I could go there. We have no idea whether we have any relative left there any longer,” he said. From Amritsar’s Jati Umra village,the Sharifs moved to Lahore,where they struck gold in business before Sharif joined politics.

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Sitting next to Sharif on a large sofa during that meeting — at which Sharif’s politician daughter Maryam Nawaz,son Hussain,politician brother Shahbaz and Shahbaz’s son Salman too were present — was Ishaq Dar,a financial expert who had by then already started work on finding ways to tackle Pakistan’s desperate economic situation.

Sharif introduced Dar as a Kashmiri,which Dar — whose son Ali is married to another of Nawaz Sharif’s daughters — acknowledged with a nod. Well before the results were out,it was widely known in Pakistan that Dar would be the country’s next finance minister.

A prominent chartered accountant and former head of the Lahore Chambers of Commerce and Industry,Dar has served at the World Bank,Asian Development Dank,Islamic Development Bank and other top international financial organisations. He joined the PML(N) in 1989,and was finance minister at the time of Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s coup in 1999.

Dar’s reputation as an economic expert and administrator transcends party lines,and the PPP government made him finance minister in 2008 during its short-lived alliance with the PML (N). In the Senate,Dar associated himself closely with the committee on Kashmir affairs.

The other influential PML (N) leader with Kashmiri roots,Khawaja Asif,has been elected to the National Assembly for the third time. The 64-year-old Asif headed Pakistan’s Privatisation Commission with the status of union minister in Sharif’s second government,and was Pakistan’s petroleum and natural resources minister during the brief PPP-PML (N) alliance.

Asif’s family migrated from Kashmir to Sialkot,where another famous Kashmiri migrant,Allama Iqbal,also lived. Asif’s father,Khawaja Muhammad Safdar,had been an active member of the movement for Pakistan,and later a well known politician who became Pakistan’s acting president in 1981. Asif’s victory in the election last month was attributed to the support of Sialkot’s strong Kashmiri population.

In the tumultous years around 1947,several influential Kashmiri families migrated to the Punjab,Rawalpindi and Allahabad,where they excelled in business,academics and politics. The Nehru,Katju,Sapru families settled in Allahabad. Some Kashmiri families like those of the Nehrus and the Mians have gone on to decisively influence the history of the subcontinent.

The full contours of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government are likely to emerge over the next few days. Apart from Dar and Asif,members of several other influential Kashmiri families could get important roles,observers said. How this likely unique presence of Kashmiris in the corridors of power in Islamabad impacts Kashmir remains to be seen.

Asked about a solution to the Kashmir issue,Sharif had chosen not to reply directly. He had instead asked this correspondent,“What do people there think should be done?”

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First published on: 06-06-2013 at 03:51:31 am

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