PAKISTAN was founded in the name of Allah and He in turn has been immensely gracious in pulling the country out of numerous crises.
The 2013 general elections were held despite threats from militant groups and dharna crowds. The harrowing fall of Imran Khan and his recovery saved the country from another tragedy, while his immobility spared the country from a lethal agitation on allegations of electoral rigging.
The 2013 elections were a blessing for numerous reasons. The participation of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf roused political parties from their complacency and presented people with another choice. This time the campaign was about issues rather than rants over irrelevant slogans to please power brokers within the country. No one promised to conquer Lal Qila nor lamented that Islam was in danger. Promises to end load-shedding topped the list. Countering terrorism and economic recovery were high on the agenda.
Despite huge amounts spent on election campaigns every party vowed to bring in a clean government and accused their opponents of corruption. The people saw through such ploys. Better governance rather than corruption was the issue. The electorate simply expects future governments to make life safer and more comfortable. That is not asking much.
The election results had other messages too. The people will punish rulers who perform badly. The electorate wants a change but not more experimentation. They are willing to give political parties a chance to prove themselves but will not allow them to exploit their emotions on the basis of past suffering or be swayed by hollow promises of a utopian future.
The constant bickering between the judiciary and the last government took its toll on the country’s progress. Electing the PML-N may, at least, put this confrontation aside. Judges may now exercise the restraint expected of an independent judiciary. Some fear that cosy relations between the PML-N and the judiciary may prove costly, weakening other democratic institutions rather than strengthening them.
Mian Nawaz Sharif has a challenging task. It will not be a friendly match. The establishment is bruised and will never surrender to a civilian leader they had unceremoniously dismissed. The transition to democracy is taking root. This will put numerous groups and individuals at the mercy of the people rather than allow them to be beneficiaries of the establishment’s largess, hurting those who’ve always enjoyed the limelight and influence in the absence of democracy.
Such elements will continue to conspire for a ‘technocrat’ set-up. They exist in all political parties and surround their leadership. They are often the source of disinformation about their own leaders and for them as well.
Sharif will have to remain focused and address the woes of the people, who alone can protect a democratic system. Take the PPP’s example. It was not the National Reconciliation Ordinance that rescued it but the fair-minded people of Pakistan. Once it turned away from the masses they too closed their doors.
Sharif will have to take some hard, unpopular decisions to get the country back on track. The most important task is to convert his votes into voltage. The PPP found it an impossible task. The problem worsened, especially when the Supreme Court stopped rental power plants from operating. It threw out the baby with the bathwater.
The entire debris has now fallen on the shoulders of the PML-N which will have to cut down on load-shedding and keep the economy afloat. This is not easy but can be modestly accomplished if hard decisions are properly implemented. Patience with dysfunctional governance has run out.
Trade and dialogue with India and Afghanistan is critical for early economic uplift. Engagement with the International Monetary Fund for the time being is vital so that better terms are negotiated. International financial support will have to be sought. The support of the military as well as of the US will be required to pursue these policies effectively. They have to be convinced to let the civilians lead the way in building regional peace. Bringing national and global powers on the same page in line with the vision of a civilian Pakistan will be hugely challenging.
The PML-N will require exceptional skills to achieve this. No one will be convinced that the route to world peace lies in the hands of Maulana Samiul Haq. It is not that simple. The route to a meaningful dialogue is engagement, reaching a position of strength and then resort to dialogue with clear terms and properly identified interlocutors. We cannot pretend that the militants are simple people who will listen to pleadings or good sense or be swayed by promises of goodies.
The PML-N has also to learn to be more tolerant of criticism and less susceptible to flattery. The fire-brigade style of governance will have to be complemented by the long-term strengthening of institutions, including the bureaucracy.
The PPP lacked the skills to govern well but it did have some vision in devolving power to the provinces and the will to strengthen parliament rather than retain a powerful president. They were able to hold elections under a neutral caretaker government. In this regard the PPP, despite its ineptness, raised the bar in promoting a democratic culture.
The PML-N has no such legacy. Nawaz Sharif played a mature role as leader of the main opposing party and hopefully will continue to promote political tolerance.
Balochistan is a worry but discontent is increasingly brewing in Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Kashmir wants independence from the infamous Kashmir Council. Both have to be placated till an eventual solution is found to bring Gilgit-Balistan into the mainstream and to resolve Kashmiri woes.
Eventually, it is the honeymoon period that allows governments to set their pace. The PML-N has a marathon session ahead.
They had better get on with it or else they too will have to bear public humiliation.
The writer is a lawyer and human rights activist.