•National leadership should be on ‘same page’ •Road, rail links to be developed between Gwadar and Kashgar • Drone attacks should be stopped •Achakzai wants action against Musharraf and others who were behind his illegal moves
ISLAMABAD: Voted prime minister by the new National Assembly on Wednesday for a record third term, Nawaz Sharif proposed making a “common agenda” with political allies and foes to wade through a “jungle of problems” that he said had grown in Pakistan.
In a speech to the assembly immediately after being elected leader of the house by more than two-thirds majority and over three hours before being sworn in by President Asif Ali Zardari at the presidency, he cited electricity shortages, law and order, poverty, corruption, agricultural and industrial progress and building infrastructure among the major priorities that he said his PML-N government would tackle without relent.
But contrary to media speculations that he would do it, he withheld details of what he called a “comprehensive plan” prepared to tackle these problems, saying they would be disclosed in an address on an unspecified later date.
The main focus of his 30-minute speech to a packed house and overflowing and often noisy visitors’ galleries was on domestic problems and his professed desire to reach out to leaders of all political parties represented in parliament to share one another’s thoughts and giving federal cooperation to all provincial governments no matter which party governed there.
“They should either share our vision or we will share their vision,” he said about leaders who he said he would contact “very soon”.
“Let us make a common agenda about how to extricate the country from its difficulties,” he said, stressing that “we all need to be on the same page” — political parties and other stake-holders — to solve national problems.
And the new prime minister seemed echoing the views of President Zardari by acknowledging that the enormity of Pakistan’s “so many problems” was beyond the strength of a single party and said: “If we get together all these problems can be resolved. Let us get together for the sake of Pakistan.”
Mr Sharif, whose induction as prime minister ended more than 13 years in wilderness since being toppled in the Oct 12, 1999, coup by then army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf, secured 244 votes in the election through the parliamentary mode of open division — by recording one’s preference in a register placed in different lobbies rather that secret ballot — with a token contest from Makhdoom Amin Fahim, parliamentary leader of the previously ruling PPP who got 42 votes and Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of PTI who got 31.
That winning total, including new support from the 23-seat former PPP ally MQM and some other smaller groups, was 14 votes less than 258 votes each received by PML-N’s Speaker Ayaz Sadiq and Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi on Monday when the PPP had voted for them after withdrawing its own candidates for the two offices while the MQM and PTI had put up their own candidates for the offices.
FOREIGN POLICY: Mr Sharif spoke very little about his government’s foreign policy plans except a fleeting reference to US drone attacks on suspected militant hideouts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), which he said should stop, and what he called a proposed plan to build rail and road links from the fabled Chinese town of Kashgar to Gwadar port in Balochistan, which he said he had discussed with his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang when Mr Li visited Pakistan last month.
While praising the PPP government’s decision to hand over the port’s management to a Chinese state-run company, he did not talk about a recent agreement of that government with Iran to build a pipeline to bring natural gas, or about the fate of Mr Musharraf, his nemesis now in jail facing several charges, including an alleged responsibility for the 2007 assassination of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto and detention of judges of superior courts whom he sacked after declaring a controversial emergency in November 2007.
But Mr Fahim took up the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline issue in his speech to congratulate Mr Sharif and said that important project, which is opposed by the United States on grounds of US economic sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear programme, should be implemented.
The reference to drone attacks came after Mr Sharif talked about the need to eliminate lawlessness and militancy, without naming Taliban or touching speculated plans to negotiate peace with them, when he said international concerns had to be addressed to see a halt to frequent drone attacks.
Amidst cheers from the galleries, he said while Pakistan respected sovereignty of other countries, its sovereignty must also be respected and for this also he called for a “joint course of action”.
HOOLIGANISM: The historic ceremony of the first smooth transition to a new elected government from another that completed its full five-year term and Mr Sharif becoming the first Pakistani to become prime minister for the third time was somewhat marred by hooliganism by scores of apparent PML-N supporters who tried to storm into the house galleries, including the press gallery where they roughed up some journalists who objected to their intrusion.
The incident brought the new speaker to the press gallery to get it vacated from the intruders and an apology later by him in the house, besides protests by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf members Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Shireen Mazari, who said she feared a threat to members’ security as visitors who failed to enter the galleries continued banging doors and shouting slogans even during Mr Sharif’s speech.
Mr Sharif, who stayed in the house during congratulatory speeches from some major parties before the house was prorogued after a three-day session, said he would not let his team sit idle nor himself indulge in that luxury in search of solutions to problems.
Talking about corruption, he said heads and boards of governors of state enterprises would be appointed on merit and advertisements to bring talent would be placed in international media.
Mr Fahim, like most others who followed him, promised support to Mr Sharif’s government in its steps for national good but vowed to oppose it when seen doing otherwise.
But, while speaking of “some role of (intelligence) agencies” in the defeat of his party outside Sindh, he advised the new government to refrain from undemocratic methods like those of formation of an anti-PPP Islami Jamhoori Ittehad allegedly by these agencies in 1990 and what he called offers made to him by Mr Musharraf to induct his son as Sindh chief minister and for an unspecified “pagri”, or high position, to him if the Makhdoom family quit the PPP.
Mr Fahim named a former prime minister under Mr Musharraf, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who was present in the house on a PML-N front bench, for repeating the offer on behalf of the military ruler. Mr Jamali remained quiet.
PTI’s Javed Hashmi, who vowed “opposition for speaking truth” rather than being a friendly opposition, made a sentimental reference to his previous association with the PML-N, saying: “Nawaz Sharif had been my leader and is (my) leader”.
Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai wanted action not only against Musharraf for his acts but also against all those who had supported him, including judges, lawyers and media persons, and demanded compensation for judges, or their scions, for wrongs done to them for opposing military takeovers in the past.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement parliamentary leader Farooq Sattar called his party as an opposition party despite having voted for Mr Sharif and said it would support all good actions of the government and would oppose any anti-people actions or policies.