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Sharif in Wonderland


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IT may have not been difficult for Nawaz Sharif to reclaim the top position. But he certainly does not appear comfortable there. His morose demeanour portrays a man in deep agony, inspiring little confidence in the nation he is supposed to lead.

It was a rare moment in recent months when he was seen smiling in public, curiously enough, during the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry last month.

Mr Sharif’s first 80 days in his third term in office have not been promising enough to build public confidence in his government. His much-delayed first address to the nation lacked focus and direction. His tentative approach and indecision on almost all key policy issues has reinforced the state of inertia afflicting the republic.

Now almost at the end of the honeymoon period, the government does not have much to show for its performance. The prime minister’s dithering is proverbial. Several key diplomatic and government positions are lying vacant because he cannot make up his mind. Mr Sharif has never been known for the delegation of powers, but the situation seems to have worsened this time with him keeping several key portfolios such as foreign, defence and commerce for himself.

The rest are the same old faces, part of the previous PML-N administration some 13 years ago, thus bringing no new vision or ideas relevant to a radically changed domestic and external environment.

His unwillingness to induct new blood illustrates Mr Sharif’s old cliquish style of governance. The consultations on important matters are restricted to close family members and a few trusted hangers-on.

It is a government running in neutral gear. There has not been any substantive move yet to implement the party’s much-touted reform agenda.

Take for example, the economy, said to be on top of Mr Sharif’s priority list. There seems to be no clear policy direction. Despite his comfortable majority in the National Assembly, Mr Sharif is not willing to take the tough decisions urgently needed to put the economy back on track. It is ad hocism at its worst.

In last week’s address, the prime minister spoke at length about what had gone wrong, but nothing on what is to be done. Reforming the taxation system certainly does not seem to be Mr Sharif’s priority. That was quite apparent from what he said in an interview to London’s Telegraph last week: “I have not yet discussed this matter because … these are very initial days.” So how long will it take for Mr Sharif to think about this critical issue?

Mr Sharif has also hinted at cutting income and corporate taxes. “We will have to lower the taxes in the country, the income tax, the corporate tax and all the taxes,” he told the Telegraph. With the tax collection now accounting for less than 9pc of GDP, one of the lowest in the world, cutting taxes for the rich, without widening the tax base, is a recipe for disaster.

Mr Sharif’s government has already agreed to a $5.3billion IMF bailout package that will give breathing space to Pakistan’s ailing economy. The programme also requires Pakistan to bring down the whopping fiscal deficit. But can this be possible without radical tax reforms? Given this situation, the government will find it extremely difficult to comply with the terms of the IMF programme.

Mr Sharif appears much more conflicted and confused on the issue of terrorism. A large part of his address last week was devoted to the human and financial cost of rising militancy. He was right when he said that political stability and economic development is not possible without eradicating the menace. But his resolve seemed to weaken when it came to the issue of taking action against those challenging the state’s authority.

While holding out the possibility of a military option, Mr Sharif still seems to be hung up on the idea of a negotiated peace deal with the militants. What he does not realise is that such an approach has not worked in the past and there is no hope of it succeeding this time either. While the Taliban have made it very clear that they are prepared to talk only on their terms, the government seems to be hell-bent on placating them.

The government’s desperation to appease the Taliban was evident from the comment made by Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan during a TV interview that the previous administrations were not sincere in negotiations. He ruled out the use of force against the militants saying that dialogue was the only option.

Such remarks not only legitimise the terrorists, they may also weaken the resolve of our security forces battling them. The minister does not even want to have preconditions for the so-called peace talks. Nothing could be more defeatist than this.

There is an increasing perception that Mr Sharif is willing to reconcile with the militants as long as they spare Punjab from terrorist attacks. The reported divide between the Punjabi Taliban and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan over Mr Sharif”s offer for peace talks lends credence to the prevailing impression. Many believe that the prime minister has put on hold the hanging of two convicted members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi after the threat from the Punjabi Taliban. The group threatened to target top government leaders if the men were executed.

So, it was not surprising that the group welcomed Mr Sharif’s peace talks offer after the suspension of the execution order. Buying peace for one province at the cost of the country’s stability is certainly not going to work.

One expected that the third Sharif government may have learnt from past mistakes and would bring political stability to the strife-torn country. But the performance of the government so far does not instil much hope for the future. Mr Sharif needs to come out of his Wonderland before the situation becomes irreversible.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (39) Closed

ss Aug 27, 2013 09:40am

The author is absolutely right. No point in trying to talk peace with the muderers of innocent women and children and perpetrators of senseless violence. What is needed is the wholesale slaughter of each and every single militant ; a cleaning up of the type we have seen in Ceylon where a three decade old insurgency led by tamil terrorists was brought to a swift end by the simple expedient of eliminating the killers. That, and that alone, is the solution to the problem of Taliban. I doubt very much if Sharif, or Pakistan for that matter, have the stomach for it. It calls for resolve and determination of an order of which Sharif, or any democratic leader, is not capapble. A strong man in fatigues could fix the problem for good.

Aarif Aug 27, 2013 09:48am

may be a concerned look on his face is a good sign. I would worry if he had a smirk on his face.

Syeda Jafri Aug 27, 2013 09:49am

Rightly analysed. Sharifs have learned nothing from their past mistakes. Thats because they are not, & were never, sincere in their approach. Suspending life sentence of terrorists is the biggest proof of his insincere approach

Moderate Pakistani Aug 27, 2013 10:31am

Accurate analysis of performance of present government. Do not understand why we always bow our head infornt of these militants and their inhuman acts. And such statements from the premier of country encourage these animals to act hienously. How long we will remain hostage of thier indocile crimes. If you can not save your countrymen then you do not have right to claim the majority representation. Please do not mess the whole country at cost of one province. No one should be allowed to take the law in their hand. We have one of best intelligence agency and Army, who can do miracles. If you can not anything just stand by them.

Naseem Achakzai Aug 27, 2013 10:34am

the writer has clearly indicated the causes of the failure of current govt. I do requested to respected PM that focus on single issue rather than dreaming about all. Look at Balochistan cabinet it is still pending.we all have to redirect our track.

Harsh Srivastava Aug 27, 2013 11:37am

I think Mian sahab is the best hope for Pakistan, ahead of IK. And his priorities w.r.t to economy are just right. Has taken numerable steps too to improve the dismal economic scenario in the country. Economic prosperity as a tool to counter the terrorist/fundamentalist narrative which is currently prevalent in Pakistan, is just what the doctor ordered for Pakistan.

2cents Aug 27, 2013 12:36pm

biased article from another arm chair analyst.

M.R Aug 27, 2013 01:57pm

@Aarif: I think it was not a smile, but a look and tone of resolve & determination which the people were hoping for...a worried prime minister is even more reason for worry among the masses.

Khanm Aug 27, 2013 01:55pm

Keep on forgetting the credibility, my friend. How on earth Nawaz Sharif is going to regain public confidence? His track record proves it otherwise... Alice you are not going to be in wonder land any more because Nawaz Sharif is coming over.

Solitar Aug 27, 2013 02:27pm

The present regime seems to be a continuation of the former regime. On the one hand it always raises hue and cry objecting to the sea monster

gangadin Aug 27, 2013 03:14pm

PPP could not show anything in five years. What is sharif supposed to show? He has surrounded himself with people like nisar ali who are nothing more than illegal occupants of the land and traitors since the day of british. He needs to clean up his act and learn from his previous tenure.

FR Aug 27, 2013 03:24pm


"...wholesale slaughter of each and every single militant..."; too simplistic and impractical solution you are suggesting. Comparing Ceylon with Pakistan is like comparing oranges with apples. Geography, ethnic composition, political history and whole lot of other aspects of the two conflicts are completely different...and whether one agrees on not, theirs was a case of one ethnic group against another. While in our case it's a war of ideologies, and to win such wars you need to use brain and not brawn.

IBN-E-ASHFAQUE Aug 27, 2013 04:10pm

The situation is already irreversible. Pakistan lacks governance at the policy level and at the implementation level. The issue of governance is not even recognised by Sharif what to expect any change. In order to establish governance the leaders must lead by example such as General Azam (former governor of East Pakistan). Sharif is a tax dodger, his geographical vision does not extend beyond Punjab, and his focus is primarily on Lahore. What more can be expected from General Zia's protege. Eventually the army will have to intervene again. I pray that the General who takes the helm of affairs is like General Azam, a slim chance and not like Generals Yahya or Niazi. After all the democratic mayhem in Pakistan does not bode well for the nation. The politicians have failed the country, they are too greedy, and desist change. Imran had given a flicker of hope but he is also faltering.

Khanzada Aug 27, 2013 04:15pm

This excellent article is spot on about Nawaz Sharif! He is unfit to be PM of Pakistan and his "rabbits in the headlights" frightened and uncertain look during his speech and since coming into power does nothing to inspire confidence in a nation going through one crisis after the next. The writer is correct that Nawaz Sharif is only worried about terrorism in Punjab and for this reason he is incapable of being an effective and unifying leader who can solve the problems of ALL Pakistanis. Instead of making a decisive move against Taliban, Nawaz Sharif has simply allowed them to wreak havoc and defy the State Writ and Law by attacking National Heritage sites, Jails, and killing minorities across Pakistan! Nawaz and his Govt have abandoned the people of Pakistan to the mercy of these bloodthirsty terrorist jackals. SHAME on them for their cowardice and failure in leadership!

MSAlvi Aug 27, 2013 04:39pm

@ss: Bring back Musharraf. He can fix the problems.

Shahzad Aug 27, 2013 05:17pm

Zahid Hussain has a brillaint exposure to Pakistan current affairs. I think it is still to early to say anything about Sharif Govt. The Govt Priority seems to be steady as far as Law and order , & Power crisis are concered. Both cannot be tackled overnight for sure. The current Govt is being faced with lots of challenges, be it Economy, Financial obligation, Power crisis, Unemployement, dyfunctional of Govt Institution (PIA,Steelmills,EOBI,Railways,National Bank), FDI is lowest in five years, GDP is stagnant, Infrastructure has been in turnmoil. Despite all odds, If this Govt has found viable solution to Terrorism, law and order in the country uniformly, power crises and kept Baluchistan on high mode progress. I would get satisfaction from the current Govt performance. The topic wonderland is perfect as far as Pakistan tink tank is concerned.

anwar khushab Aug 27, 2013 06:37pm

@IBN-E-ASHFAQUE: You are much too kind to Nawaz Sharif. The simple fact is that in terms of intellect and personality he is too weak to deal with the problems of Pakistan.

SAKAZMI Aug 27, 2013 06:37pm

his existence in government is just installation him by bureaucratic cum judiciary fiasco but this seems short-lived fancy show can be prolonged only by performance. lets watch, good writing Mr Zahid Hussein

Nizamuddin Aali Aug 27, 2013 06:59pm

Nawaz Sharif needs help. He s surrounded by his old cronies and yes men. These guys are selfish with no self respect and incompetent. Find replacement for some or all of them ASAP. Foreign service officers are needed for damage control against rumors India has spread and has created bad image of Pakistan. Indians have joined hands others who want to see Pakistan fail as a nation. Mr. Sharif's big brother is not helping much. They are not the solution but they are the problem. There are tons of Pakistanis who will work even for free if asked by Mr. Sharif. Mr. Sharif should bear in mind that India is not his friend. May be the Saudis and IMF have brain washed him, but that a'int so. India is eager to sell Indian made cars, motor cycles and computers to Pakistan and nothing more. India has never been Pakistan friend and never will be. In summary PM should get out of old mind set, after all Pakistan is not Rai Wind and deal making today is tougher than making money in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

Amjad Wyne Aug 27, 2013 09:36pm

Yes, Nawaz is horrible but nation naturally compares him with the PPP leaders. So no matter how bad he performs, he will not be able to drop to the level of PPP leaders - and that is a very sad story. I remember Gilani's first speech - Can anyone perform worse than that?

Ahmer Aug 27, 2013 09:46pm

Nawaz Sharif will do nothing more and nothing less that what he did in his previous two terms as PM.

umer Aug 27, 2013 09:50pm

"Don't approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or a fool from any side."

Taha Lateef Aug 27, 2013 10:24pm

I am PTI supporter, but considering that Mr. Nawaz Sharif has been elected as the Prime Minister, I believe that he should be allowed to work and lead the nation. With the ending of PPP government and peaceful elections, despite the pessimism in the media and corruption in the country, there is indeed a positive business sentiment in the country. We hope to see a change, not in a few days or few months and but in a couple of years or. But we would at least like to see the things moving in a positive direction, that must happen now.

Taha Lateef Aug 27, 2013 10:41pm

I think that the government shouldn't consider reducing taxes on the private corporations down from 35% just yet. They should be allowed these tax reductions only if they go public. That will boost the stock markets and make them less volatile as there will be more stocks and more companies to trade. Moreover the government should let the exemptions on the Capital Gains Tax expire and implement CGT in its earnest. Realistically speaking the CGT should start as a smaller percentage of the gains at a maximum of 5 percent and be deductible automatically by the stock markets. It may be raised later. Moreover there should be tax on every transaction in the stock market. The tax percentage should be small, say 0.1% with half of it considered as a withholding tax and adjustable against other taxes paid during the year. This will document the economy and bring more people into the tax net.

Ashraf Aug 27, 2013 11:40pm

As a prolific columnist, Mr. Zahid Hussain has summarized the current state of affairs in the present government pretty well. It is my observation and opinion that the overwhelming majority of people from all walks of life, and of all creed and colours, in Pakistan believe that the Talibans are their brothers in faith, and as soldiers of God are doing a jihad to have Islamic shariah introduced in this country. With this kind of belief among the majority of people in this country how can it be expected that the concerned in the government will ever fight with the Talibans relentlessly with a strong resolve and determination to crush these terrorists to a point from where they will never be able to raise their heads for a hundred years? Ashraf

L'humaniste Aug 28, 2013 01:36am

Well written and to the point. TTP along with their other counterparts have "Neutered" Pakistan. The spill over of this menace is a highly sectarian society infested with closet Taliban types, which in my view is another specter hovering over Pakistan. Just like the so called brutal, lawless, deeply sectarian Arab spring, there awaits a Pakistani manifestation in making. Of course in our context it will have its own hues very particular to our divisions and decadence. The current government has its own deeply rooted prejudices and political short comings which go all the way back to Gen. Zia time. Hopefully a Big Bang of enlightenment from nowhere occurs, saves our society and drags us out of our decadence and religious perversions and our society moves ahead.

FM Aug 28, 2013 01:53am

Well said, Mr. Hussain.

Dr. Malek Towghi/Tauqee Aug 28, 2013 02:00am

I think Mr. Sharif is painfully wondering how to deal with the unelected self-appointed guardians of Pakistan who insist to maintain their paramountcy in all affairs of the country, particularly in Balochistan.

John Smith Aug 28, 2013 02:24am

One simple solution if they want to revive the economy of Pakistan.

Bring in people with the right aptitude and direction - I would say people like Shaukat Aziz who have the right mindset and can present themselves infront of crowds without reluctance - just like Manmohan Singh in India. Look at where India was 10 years ago and compare to where it is now!

aditya Aug 28, 2013 02:29am

How much tax does your leader pay?..

aditya Aug 28, 2013 02:32am

@IBN-E-ASHFAQUE: yep your army has all the answers since they CREATED all the qsns. arent they the ones whose hq and bases keeps getting bombed regularly, the ones guarding the country with no idea whos flying in and out. the ones who own all the businesses in pakistan while leaching all the money out of the exchequer so they can live life king size..yep..they ll fix it

aditya Aug 28, 2013 02:32am

@2cents: King Ostrich like the rest

aditya Aug 28, 2013 02:35am

@ss: how do u get those who live like u, think like you, look like u, are in every facet of govt bodies , in the army, in the police etc etc.

Tariq K Sami Aug 28, 2013 05:16am

NS is a deeply worried man and he cannot figure out why the Taliban do not like "aloo-kosht" and "badami sherbet",Manmohan likes it and even congratulated NS for winning all the seats in Chakwal (Manmohan's old home town). So who are the Taliban and what's wrong with them? And aloo-kosht is better with bhindi too. And all these floods and no one noticed his deep concerns he rushed to sukkher with relief goods. How are these poor villagers to cook aloo-kosht and bhindi. And why is the Great Khan so riled up. And why the CJ of Pakistan has a suo-moto disease. And aloo-kosht needs to be cooked slowly and over low heat and NS knows this part. And this is why I am not worried.

Azhar Awan Aug 28, 2013 05:47am

In Pakistan Politics-you should not be the smartest or among the talented man on the earth-but have to have and meet one criterion-you have to be rich. It is true, he seems bit not ready for the post. I wish him and his government the last tenure. Do you aware of any other we politician ready for this post. Look Mr. Hamid of Afghan, is not he more sharp and focused. When he went to India he sign-off many agreements and when he arrived in Pakistan, his main agenda or at least news was he came to release Taliban leaders-what is this?

conflicted Aug 28, 2013 07:12am

Difficult to believe all of this. One IMF condition clearly specifies tax reform. Since they have released a tranche and are prepared to increment it one can only infer that there has been compliance. The only way you can get more revenues concurrently with tax reductions is if you broaden the tax base. Has the author researched this? Besides we are told tax revenues have gone up by substantially over the same period last year. Re. the death penalty one is told the decision to delay or reverse is a presidential prerogative and the PM can not override it. So we have Mr. Zardari to thank -- what's new? Dialogue with the Taleban seems to be in vogue globally. If Pakistan plays along what's the harm. The Taleban won't agree and we will have built up brownie points :))

shahzad Aug 28, 2013 11:41am

@MSAlvi: He has hired the best man for the job !

Aamna Aug 29, 2013 12:51pm

@John Smith: Shaukat Aziz was anything but an economic revolutionary. He had just a short-sighted banker's approach and his policies of introducing loans, car financing, installment based schemes were a tad to shallow. To me, Nawaz Sharif and Shaukat Aziz have nothing that's not common.

Akram Aug 29, 2013 08:15pm

Nawaz Sharif is wasting his time talking to the Jahil Taliban, they have no interest in relinquishing the little power they have achieved by force. We must fight them physically and economically by creating jobs. Most taliban fighters are just there because its an income. Once we provide them an alternative that is not life threatening, the lure of the Taliban will fade.