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The new Sharif era


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GOOD, bad or ugly, the 2013 elections are over; and now testing times are ahead for the new incumbents. It is the third coming for Nawaz Sharif, a remarkable turn of fortune for a leader who was ousted from power by the military at gunpoint in 1999 and convicted on treason charges.

With the independents jumping on its bandwagon and support from allied parties the PML-N is now close to reaching the coveted two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.

It may not be the same ‘heavy mandate’ that Mr Sharif had enjoyed during his second term in office, but it nevertheless gives him enough space and power to take tough decisions urgently needed to bring about the economic and political stability the country needs.

Can Mr Sharif deliver this time what he failed in his controversial previous term in office? Has he gotten over his past ambition of becoming the all-powerful ‘amirul momineen’ and is he now willing to accept the pluralistic reality of the country’s power structure?

The country’s political landscape has changed extensively since Mr Sharif’s last term in office and it remains to be seen whether he has learnt from his past mistakes. It is certainly not going to be smooth sailing for the third-timer.

While its landslide victory in Punjab has catapulted the PML-N back to power in Islamabad after a hiatus of 14 years, the party has failed to gain a strong foothold in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That makes the new government more Punjab-centric with some serious ramifications for the federation.

The 2013 elections have reinforced the regionalisation of politics in the country. Different political parties will be controlling governments in different provinces. While in Sindh it is the return of the old PPP-led coalition government, a brand new face in the form of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is to lead the administration in the country’s most troubled province of KP.

In Balochistan, the PML-N owes its success largely to the dismally low voter turnout in the Baloch constituencies. In certain areas, candidates getting less than 1,000 votes have been declared elected. Nevertheless, the PML-N with the support of the National Party and Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, which has achieved a stunning victory in the Pakhtun belt, will form the government in the province.

These were the first elections after the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment that granted greater autonomy to the provinces. With most of the power already transferred to the provinces, the hold of the central government may not be that strong any more. The amendment has decentralised economic and political decision-making down to the provincial level. The autonomy to the provinces has transformed Pakistan into a truly federal state and generated a new dynamic that is impacting the course of politics in the country.

The seventh NFC award that followed the Eighteenth Amendment has also resulted in the transfer of greater resources to the provinces. This has left the federal government primarily focusing on the macroeconomic framework and the conduct of fiscal, monetary and trade policies. A critical question is how a Punjab-dominated government will coexist with a new decentralised federal structure.

Despite its emphatic victory in the elections the PML-N has not been able to introduce any fresh blood and the same old faces are expected to form the new cabinet. There is the big question of whether the party is still trapped in the past or willing to move forward in a changed situation. The challenge facing the country needs a leadership with a fresh outlook and vision.

A major challenge for the new government lies in how it will deal with the new geo-strategic reality. The decade-long US war in Afghanistan has spilled over deep inside our territory. The country itself has become a theatre of a war unleashed by the militants and the local Taliban. More than 100,000 army troops are now engaged in a bloody war in the lawless tribal regions.

With the approaching 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan needs to have a coherent national security strategy. Therefore, it is imperative that the civil and military leadership are on the same page. The civilian government needs to take charge of formulating the national security and foreign policies. For that they need to have a proper understanding of the situation as well as the capability to come up with a clear national narrative.

Mr Sharif seems to have rightly assigned top priority to the revival of the economy. But can this be possible without addressing the problem of militancy and violent extremism? What is most troublesome, however, is his ambiguous position on these critical issues.

Going by the PML-N election manifesto and Mr Sharif’s recent statements the twin menace threatening the country’s unity and existence seems to be at the lowest rung of his priorities. Hopefully, Mr Sharif will soon come to terms with the fact that the revival of the economy cannot be possible without effectively combating the militancy that is sweeping the country.

This will also depend on how civil-military relations evolve under Mr Sharif’s stewardship. That has been the biggest problem during his previous two terms. He seems to be still haunted by the memories of being taken away handcuffed by soldiers and incarcerated in a dungeon by the military regime. But the time has come to move on after the people have once again reposed confidence in him.

For the military leadership too it is time for retrospection and building bridges. Gen Kayani’s initiative in visiting Mr Sharif and briefing him on national security issues may help build confidence between the civil and military leaderships. It is imperative to evolve a strong working relationship among all institutions of the state to deal with the grave challenges faced by the country.

The writer is an author and journalist. Twitter: @hidhussain

Comments (11) Closed

M. Alvi May 22, 2013 02:08am
I watched the entire speech of Nawaz Sharif that he made to the newly elected members of his party at Lahore. He was vague and did not have any clear idea of the problems and their solutions. Basically, he was telling his party to work hard and serve people so that they can get elected again. He vaguely mentioned the problems of energy shortage and terrorism. He did not mention the word 'corruption' even once in his entire speech, which is the root cause of all other problems. The main theme of his speech was, "With God's blessing we won, and with God's blessing, we will win again" - the celebration of victory, as if power is the only goal. I was very disappointed to hear that speech and lost any hope of improvement in Pakistan's fate, in the coming years.
R K Jain May 21, 2013 10:15pm
Albeit very difficult to forget what happened in 1999, Nawaz Sharif has to look forward. Building a strong economy should be a priority but without dealing with a strong hand to eliminate extremism, which at one time, was created with the state blessings to cause trouble in Kashmir, Pakistan can't succeed in achieving prosperity and peace. Pakistan and India working together can become a power to reckon with. Good luck.
DharmendraGoel May 22, 2013 03:13am
ItseemsthatZAhidhussain Sahib isaware thatNewaz hasless than whole Pakistani Society supportinghisparty in national Assemblynow returned, and he hopes to getsome18independents to make 143 enough to claim majority. however, the fact that his followersare not present in the rest of theunits ofpakistanFederal Government.could be worrisome. Newaz mustseek approval for hisRule from those who look on him asan outsider in therest ofpakistani State. He must rise to secure real mandate forhis Pakistani Masses ourside Punjab this isgoing to be hard Agenda for his pumjabi Lobby to get acceptance in therest ofpakistani Jamooriya. D.Goel
Ash May 21, 2013 11:16pm
A great analysis, hope the leaders think on these lines.
pathanoo May 21, 2013 05:11pm
Very well said, Sohail.
pathanoo May 21, 2013 05:16pm
Having the same corrupt politicians, old friends who looted Pakistan in the past, in your cabinet is an early indicator of what is to come. How can one expect these corrupt leopards to change their spots? And, then who in Pakistan really expects that Nawaz Sharif will really go after the Taliban and the terrorists? Not much hope based on what we see but then there is no alternative either. Good Luck, Pakistan.
jamil May 21, 2013 03:03pm
you are a brave man
Sohail Aslam May 21, 2013 02:01pm
The PML-N did not win the election as much as the other parties lost it.....................PML-N's past performance surely does not predict how it will perform in the future, but can be an important indicator. Nawaz Sharif's obsession with becoming 'amir-ul-momineen, ' his own lack-lustre showing during the 5 years of the PPP government, and the fact that the same old faces are expected to form the new cabinet, leaves little hope of any constructive changes or wide-spread redemption. Using the analogy of cricket, if Zimbabwe miraculously wins the World Cup, it will not make it the best cricket team in the world!
Agha Ata (USA) May 21, 2013 01:21pm
Nawaz Sharif has a MOUNT EVEREST to climb., Lets see if he does it, too! :)
Shahid Iqbal May 21, 2013 12:16pm
Country is developed by vision. Vision could be developed by considering existing realities and by setting a destination to reach. Some of the existing realities of Pakistan are as following: One, Pakistan is an under-developed country with a huge unemployed population. There are also some unemployed educated masses which could be in few millions. Second, law and order situation across the country is bad. The bad law and order is mainly due to decision of ex-dictator Zia ul Haq and his team to go to Afghanistan war with USA. This decision has change the norms of Pakistan society. We have to acknowledge this and learnt from this blunder. The lesson learnt is stay away from other people war. Third, corruption is wide spread across the country. We have to develop procedures for most of the things and government has to make sure things are only materialize by following the procedure. Not like we get the things done in the past for last thirty years. (Here, I like to mention that I am in mid forties and thus not old enough to know how it was before thirty years). For example, if one has to get a driving license for car/export/import/manufacturing..... the procedure should be completed without bribe. Government may increase the license price but it must be bribe free. Forth, forign policy is based on Pakistan objectives. Simply what Pakistan want to achieve in Afghanistan. What we like to get from Iran. Answer is simply mainly trade and raw material. Fifth, how much money we need for good education, health, infrastructures like railways and roads. Tax the masses accordingly but tax money should not be waste in non-developmental expenses. Sixth, how we can developed industrial states in various parts of Pakistan. Seventh, how Pakistan can defend himself from anyside aggression. Eight, due to continues poor law and order conditions in Karachi and to develop alternative business route there is a need to develop at least more than one deep water sea port on the coast of Baluchistan. A new independent railway track is also required to connect the major parts of country to the deep sea water port to the coast of Baluchistan. Nineth, justice is essential for any society to survive. We may have a chief justice of Pakistan but the question do we have a judicial system where ordinary person of Pakistan get fair justice in 100 days from any Pakistan courts? If not then we have to develop that. Tenth, how and when we will define (all agreed) vision for Pakistan. Without defining the agreed vision means we have not started any thing. May be we are wasting our time like we did for last sixty years. Regards Silent lover of Pakistan
mujtuba May 21, 2013 09:06am
lets see whether Mr.sharif self centered approach continues or will he manage to take decisions of national security with all the pillars of state on board. hope he will not again portray himself as amir ul momineen.