During the waning years of the Cold War Nawaz Sharif, the once and likely future leader of Pakistan, was America’s candidate of choice, endorsed for his pro-privatization policies over the Pakistani People’s Party (PPP), whose Socialist leanings made them a more natural fit for the Soviets.
A quarter-century later times have changed a lot, and Sharif is no longer seen as the US darling. His replacement of the new US party of choice, ironically the PPP, has set the stage for a potentially ugly clash over US policy in the region, with Sharif vowing not to tolerate continued US drone strikes on Pakistan the way his predecessors did.
Indeed, Sharif was openly calling for Pakistan to “reconsider” playing any role in the US terror war. US officials are still hoping he has some room to compromise, yet the elections have been such a decisive rebuke of pro-US policy that it is unthinkable that anything short of a complete overhaul of Pakistan’s foreign policy is sure to be politically costly.
In many ways, the decentralization and privatization policies that made Sharif a US favorite in the late 1980’s are the crux of the dispute, and his efforts to bring the all-powerful ISI under parliamentary oversight is unlikely to win him fans in DC, where buying influence with the ISI has been standard operating procedure for quite some time.
The US has likely lost some good will with Sharif as well, shrugging off the 1999 coup that ousted Sharif’s last government in favor of the Musharraf junta, then cheerfully backing Musharraf’s autocratic rule for almost a solid decade. This, too, seems certain to fuel mistrust in the US-Pakistan relationship going forward, and with President Obama repeatedly ruling out an end to the drone war, it seems the relationship has nowhere to go but worse.