The meeting on Saturday between PML-N President and future Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and COAS Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has both substantial and symbolic implications. Mian Nawaz was removed from office back in 1999, but his party has received a landslide mandate in the present elections and he stands to take oath as a third-time Prime Minister in just a few days. General Kayani had a three and a half-hour meeting, including lunch, with Mian Nawaz and his Punjab party chief, younger brother Mian Shahbaz Sharif, on Saturday when he called on him at his Raiwind residence.

Ostensibly, General Kayani gave the future Prime Minister a briefing on the security situation, however the future PM’s gestures towards India and the future of the COAS’s predecessor in the army, he who deposed Mian Nawaz’s government in 1999 and who is currently incarcerated in his farmhouse in Islamabad, are likely to have been two of the main points of focus.

Mian Nawaz’s pinpointed focus on improving relations with India as soon as possible, will be a source for concern for the Army, which naturally sees India as the main threat to the country’s defence. With Sharif already being accused of abandoning the Kashmir cause, and paying not much heed to Indian involvement in terrorist activities within Pakistan, the Army’s briefing and confidential information may provide him a more sound base for holding his own against the Indians, if and when a table is set up for talks on any issue.

The Army is also likely to have recommended that there be no witch hunt related to the 1999 coup; other significantly influential contacts of Mian Nawaz have expressed a wish for the same, and indeed all signs point to Mian Nawaz having reconciled himself to Musharraf flying the coop just before he himself takes oath as Prime Minister.

Mian Nawaz is understood to have made clear his resolve that the new government will jointly frame a strategy with the Army to end the scourge of terrorism, and to have taken General Kayani into confidence, of his party’s intention to spearhead a national initiative to end terrorism and extremism.

Mian Nawaz is about to embark on a new tenure, but General Kayani’s is set to end in September. It is not too early to discuss a successor. Mian Nawaz has indicated that the senior most general will be given the mantle, as protocol dictates. However, the practice so far has been not necessarily seniority, but a shortlist suggested by the outgoing COAS, for the Prime Minister’s consideration. The last time Mian Nawaz deviated from protocol, as far as seniority is concerned, his chosen COAS saw him relieved from the office of Prime Minister and sent to exile. Will he chose more wisely? And will he finally be able to live up to his stated intent to be the boss of the army, as he should be in the constitutional role of Prime Minister? This will depend not just on him, but on his relations with the COAS until September, and then with the COAS’s successor after that. One can only hope that the democratic government will have the wisdom and strength to keep democracy on track and take the Army along with it.