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Three is history: Mr Sharif returns — cautiously

Published Jun 06, 2013 08:33am

THE tables have turned. Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif is back in the prime minister’s chair and Gen Pervez Musharraf is under arrest and facing trial. Mian Sahib is the first man to be elected prime minister in the country for a third time. He is unparalleled as a Pakistani head of government ousted in a military coup and brought back by popular vote. There may be more reasons why the occasion needs to be celebrated just as it has to be marked with some solemn vows.

In his speech after his election in the National Assembly by an overwhelming majority, the new prime minister made a conscious effort to build on this reputation as a politician who has undergone the course and has learnt. He solicited political consensus, his emphasis on the economy in accordance with the PML-N’s line since its victory in the May 11 elections. He spoke of merit, about economic and social mobility manifest in his promise to have a train run between Khunjerab and Gwadar and before that he talked about respecting the mandates given to political parties. Nevertheless, it was clear that there are a few issues which he is not ready to take up as yet. Mr Sharif did not address terrorism and his mention of the drones was too cautious and too fleeting a remark to qualify as a statement of intent, let alone one of policy. It was a mild protest, a polite complaint, a question left hanging in the air. China in Gwadar was easier to handle and it did elicit a word of praise from the new incumbent for the previous government which had handed over the port’s management to the Chinese.

The supremacy of democracy, a call for consensus, the protest against the drones, the respect for popular mandates — the themes were not out of the routine. Five years ago, the stress was on reconciliation, on the need to shape a national policy on many issues. Those who spoke after Mr Nawaz Sharif’s speech in the assembly on Wednesday did highlight some of the issues where consensus is hard to achieve: law and order in Karachi and elsewhere, and lack of local governments, which was a big subject missing from the first address of a prime minister aspiring to empower people as were energy and terrorism. The new prime minister’s promise in dealing with these problems lies not so much in the numbers he has by his side but in the belief about the security and resultant maturity of the elected collective. Politicians will err and then correct their mistakes, so long as they have the time and the security of tenure.