Dr Farooq Hassan It is clear from the Western media reports one gets the clear feeling that PML-N Quaid Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif's entry into power is about to occur. His stature seems so assured that hardly a day passes without someone important from abroad seeking time from him for an audience. This is quite different from his position back in February 2008 when I had travelled to Pakistan simultaneously with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just before the then scheduled general elections of February 18, 2008. The then leader of this delegation Senator Joe Biden, and now the vice president of the United States which also included Senator John Forbes Kerry, the current chief of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had a different agenda in that visit as then they just wanted to see him. It is clear that from the start when he was one of the major players of the national political horizon, Nawaz Sharif is now 'favourite' of the foreign analysts to lead the country. He has been greatly helped in realising that exclusivity of status by the poor performance of the incumbent president. It is of significance to realise that in this period Pakistan itself has been made the target of highly focused attention by Washington in which it is considered that the continuity of the US interests in this region is in jeopardy. Two famous quotes of President Barack Hussein Obama are sufficient to emphasise this point. First the American president has said that "Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world" and secondly his emphasis that the Pakistani government now led by the PPP made a fundamental "mistake in entering into a deal" with the militants in the Swat valley. The approval of Nizam-e-Adl Regulation by the federal government had provided an added impetus to the consolidation of the Swat peace deal. This deal came after more than a year of sporadic fighting in which the armed forces of the country made a heavy going. In addition the western media, far being convinced that the deal could have some beneficial aspects, instead dubbed it to be the abject failure of the administration. A paradoxical atmosphere of mistrust between security forces and the militants was given tremendous perhaps exaggerated coverage by the Western media making it the main cause through which a few extremist commanders of the Taliban, outside of Malakand Division, had emphasised on the expansion of the Taliban's influence. The Taliban and the people of Malakand were being conditioned to believe that their 'peace deal' was under constant threat as the same media constantly condemned the Swat 'peace deal', mocked the idea of Islamic (Qazi) courts, and the media trial of the Nizam-e-Adl ordinance. It is this emerging scenario in which the thinkers of US foreign policy are apparently operating. After the commencement of recent operations by the Pakistan Army in that area which has resulted in the creation of more than a million refugees and about a 1000 militants dead, it is considered that Nawaz Sharif may now be the man Washington was looking for. Why? He has the capacity, it is argued, with his pro-Islamic credentials to somehow paddle through these troubled times that ensures that the army continues its vital demolition campaign against this militancy, keep the overall acceptability of the Western interest alive in the rest of the country and also is 'reliable'. It thus appears that Pakistani troops are carrying out recent action against the militants on the foundation of their violation of the agreement which is still considered by both sides that it be retained It is the main reason why the government despite these hostilities has been in constant touch with Maulana Sufi Muhammad, the chief of Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM). Although a liberal and secular segment of the Pakistani society and west expressed serious qualms about the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, the Pakistani military establishment was and still remains enthusiastic about it. How PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif would deal with this matter is not clear. The military described this move as the most important occasion since 9/11, after which the Pakistani security forces were drawn in a war in its own country. According to several high-ups, including the Governor of NWFP, Owais Ahmad Ghani, Director General of Frontier Corps, Major General Tariq Khan, and senior intelligence officials who have spoken to the media on condition of anonymity opinion was that peace agreements would have to be retained at all cost. It is also to be understood that with this background the recent talks in Washington took place between the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to 'experts' involved in the intense talks and negotiations, the broader picture emerging includes the following conclusions. The tensions in relations between President Asif Zardari and President Hamid Karzai have been removed and both have developed a good and cordial working relationship because both are being asked by US President Obama to meet almost similar benchmarks. Both are looked at suspiciously and believed to be unpopular and weak. The Americans have decided to give Pakistan almost US$1.9 billion for non-military development sectors this year and US$1.5 billion annually later. The US Congress and the Executive Branch agree on this and the process of authorisation will move quickly. However the Pakistanis have been "forced" to accept a disbursement and oversight mechanism which will be very different from the years of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf when the US aid was sent with no oversight in perspective. This picture is far from purely rosy for Washington. They have learnt that 2008 presented the grimmest in terms of costs of the Afghanistan war. With Pakistan too being described as unpredictable and unstable, it is certain that Washington is banking upon the civilian authority in Islamabad to keep its house in order. That is the main reason that it has greeted the apparent reconciliation between PPP and PML-N. The date with destiny that circumstances have presented to the PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Shairf will be decided largely on the consequences that eventually emerge out of the alliance. There are other factors too that need to be kept in mind. While Nawaz Sharif has to be diplomatically very careful, both Imran Khan and Qazi Hussian Ahmed are striking a cord with diverse elements of the community. Having different constituencies, nevertheless they do cover the three most robust factors of political dynamics: nationalist, religious and those with secular foundations in the society. How Nawaz Sharif grapples with these domestic factors, more than Washington, would decide his date with destiny. He needs advisors who are able to monitor both foreign relations and domestic issues with dexterity and depth. With Swat now in terrible plight and war showing its terrible consequences, it is less than certain that religious elements of the country coalescing against the operations, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has an unenviable task before him. The writer is barrister-at-law (UK), senior advocate of the Supreme Court and professor at Harvard University