Hold Your Horses!

Nawaz Sharif has be­come Prime Min­is­ter of Pak­istan for a record third stint. It is only fair that he be given rea­son­able time to tackle the loads of prob­lems he has in­her­ited.

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

In the case of con­victs, four­teen years is the pe­riod of im­pris­on­ment, of­ten called the “trans­porta­tion for life.” But 14 years in po­lit­i­cal wilder­ness can pre­pare one to per­form a hat trick for the prime min­ster’s of­fice as Mian Nawaz Sharif has re­cently demon­strated.

Af­ter his fall in Oc­to­ber 1999, Sharif suf­fered many ups and downs of for­tune. He was de­tained. He was pros­e­cuted. He spent time in self­ex­ile. Through ad­ver­sity he learned his les­son in democ­racy. To­day it is a dif­fer­ent Mian Sahib who is in power.

Though how far he has changed will be dis­cov­ered only af­ter he starts work­ing as prime min­ster, but it is ex­pected that he will no longer be on a fight­ing binge with any­one per­ceived to be cross­ing his path; no rep­e­ti­tion of his deadly com­bat with Pres­i­dent Ghu­lam Ishaq Khan; send­ing raiders to chase Chief Jus­tice Sa­j­jad Ali Shah out of his court; eas­ing Pres­i­dent Leghari and Army chief, Gen. Kara­mat out or pre­vent­ing the plane car­ry­ing the army chief from land­ing any­where in Pak­istan. Nor will jour­nal­ists be ha­rassed, ab­ducted, and charged with pre­pos­ter­ous al­le­ga­tions as dur­ing in his sec­ond stint.

Sign­ing the Char­ter of Democ­racy with his po­lit­i­cal bête noire, Be­nazir Bhutto was a clear in­di­ca­tor that his suf­fer­ings had made Nawaz Sharif re­al­ize the virtue of democ­racy. In fact, it was his de­vo­tion to the “Char­ter,” that led him to re­frain from at­tempt­ing to rock the PPP govern­ment’s boat de­spite many stand­offs thus al­low­ing an elected govern­ment to com­plete its term for the first time in Pak­istan’s his­tory.

The Pak­istan Mus­lim League (Nawaz) has won 126 gen­eral seats in the National Assem­bly in the May 11 elec­tions. Adding 18 in­de­pen­dents, who have since joined PML-N, 32 women and five mi­nor­ity seats, the party’s to­tal num­ber has jumped to 181 in a house of 342. With this sim­ple ma­jor­ity it has de­cided to form the govern­ment, though Sharif is angling for JUI (F) chief, Maulana Fa­zlur Rah­man to co­a­lesce.

Sharif’s elec­tion vic­tory has set off a del­uge of com­ments, analy­ses, gra­tu­itous ad­vice from kib­itzers in news­pa­pers, and end­less de­bates on TV talk shows. Con­grat­u­la­tions have been re­ceived from for­eign heads of state. Pres­i­dent Obama, Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh and Rahul Gandhi are among those who spoke with Sharif to fe­lic­i­tate while the Chi­nese Prime Min­is­ter Li Ke­qiang made a per­sonal visit, his first since be­ing elected.

In an un­prece­dented move, Gen. Kayani made an in­for­mal visit to Sharif at his La­hore res­i­dence; “in­for­mal,” be­cause he was dressed in mufti in­stead of fa­tigues. Their talk for a full three hours could cer­tainly not have been about the weather. Kayani is com­plet­ing his term in few months. His suc­ces­sor has to be cho­sen. He fa­vors fight­ing the Tal­iban while Sharif sup­ports talks. The army is chary of In­dia’s ris­ing clout in Afghanistan while Sharif has vig­or­ously shaken the olive branch in Man­mo­han Singh’s face since his elec­tion vic­tory.

A moun­tain of for­mi­da­ble chal­lenges await Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif, both on the home and in­ter­na­tional fronts. Com­pound­ing them is a ju­di­ciary and me­dia dif­fer­ent than what he had known in the past. In­side the NA, he will en­counter a ro­bust Op­po­si­tion, com­pris­ing Imran Khan, Sheikh Rashid, Chaudhry Per­vaiz Elahi, Khur­sheed Shah et al. More­over, PPP has the ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, which means that any leg­is­la­tion orig­i­nat­ing from the National Assem­bly could die in the up­per house.

A pre­vail­ing coun­try­wide en­ergy cri­sis is the most ur­gent and im­me­di­ate chal­lenge. Next and ex­tremely com­pli­cated is deal­ing with the Tal­iban. Sharif sup­ports the pol­icy of ne­go­ti­a­tions but the U.S. is deadly op­posed to the idea and is ea­ger to sab­o­tage it. For ex­am­ple, re­cently, when there was some progress on the TTP’s of­fer for talks, a U.S. drone at­tack killed TTP’s sec­ond-in-com­mand, Wal­iur Rah­man. In con­se­quence, the TTP promptly with­drew their of­fer.

An­other in­trigu­ing is­sue re­lates to the fate of Gen­eral Pervez Mushar­raf and whether Nawaz Sharif will il­lus­trate po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity and sup­press his urge for re­venge.

In­ter­est­ingly, while PML (N) has swept the polls in Pun­jab, its rep­re­sen­ta­tion in other prov­inces is nom­i­nal. This im­me­di­ately cre­ates an im­age prob­lem for NS, mak­ing him look like the prime min­is­ter of Pun­jab. For Sharif to once again prove his le­git­i­macy through­out Pak­istan, the new Prime Min­is­ter will have to make some tough yet crit­i­cal de­ci­sions that re­ver­ber­ate through­out the na­tion as op­posed to be­ing con­fined to a par­tic­u­lar prov­ince.

Drone at­tacks present both do­mes­tic and diplo­matic dilem­mas. Mass feel­ings against drone at­tacks are strong. Shoot­ing them down if Amer­ica per­sists, is Imran Khan’s elec­tion vow. Solv­ing this is­sue sat­is­fac­to­rily will be a test for Sharif. One pos­si­ble al­ter­na­tive could be to ne­go­ti­ate stop­ping the at­tacks as a quid pro quo for al­low­ing tran­sit of mil­lions of tons of U.S. mil­i­tary hard­ware through Pak­istan for ship­ment back home.

Other do­mes­tic is­sues in­clude choos­ing a suc­ces­sor to Chief Jus­tice Iftikhar Chaudhry, slated to re­tire in a few months, and re­sus­ci­tate the econ­omy in the short­est pos­si­ble time.

On the in­ter­na­tional front,

Sharif’s in­ter­est in cul­ti­vat­ing peace­ful re­la­tions with In­dia has been ev­i­dent from his state­ments since the elec­tions. He wants to pick up the thread from where it had snapped fol­low­ing the Kargil episode. This au­gurs well be­cause, “In­dia is ready to lead a 500MW trans­mis­sion wire over the bor­der into Pun­jab. By ex­tend­ing its own pipe­line net­work, it could also help sup­ply nat­u­ral gas, eas­ing Pak­istan’s re­liance on oil.” (The Econ­o­mist: May 16 2013).

More­over, be­sides ben­e­fit­ing from di­rect trade with In­dia, Paki- stan may also be able to ex­port its goods to Bangladesh and Nepal through In­dia if it al­lows a tran­sit route for In­dian goods to be trans­ported to Afghanistan and Cen­tral Asia through its land. But, here again is a caveat. As Amer­ica sab­o­tages talks with the Tal­iban, Hafiz Say­eed or any other “non-state ac­tor” may throw the span­ner in the work by stag­ing an ac­tion re­play of the Mum­bai at­tacks.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. is “re­treat­ing.” In­dian in­flu­ence is in­creas­ing. Karzai is friend­lier with In­dia. To­wards Pak­istan he is hos­tile. What will hap­pen af­ter Amer­ica’s de­par­ture? Would Karzai be dis­patched like Na­jibul­lah? Th­ese are ques­tions that will call for cool de­lib­er­a­tion and sound de­ci­sion from the “third­time-lucky” Mian Nawaz Sharif.

He has taken the oath. He has stepped on to cen­tre stage. How he per­forms is what all eyes are glued to.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.