NOW the real business begins — or could, if the leadership so willed it. The year 2013 was one of unprecedented transition, even of the unexpected kind with the elimination of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan chief Hakeemullah Mehsud. Thus far though the new parliament, new prime minister, new army chief and new Supreme Court chief justice have no great achievements to their name — and perhaps having spent only months, and in some cases just weeks, in their new jobs it was unrealistic to expect too much of substance. But at this point the excuses must end. Great opportunity and, as ever, threats are at hand. Most obviously, the eyes of the world will be on Pakistan as the drawdown and handover in neighbouring Afghanistan take place. But internally too there is much that can be fixed — or go further wrong if the right decisions are not taken. And of all the key figures, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be the leader with the biggest stage to prove if he is capable of true leadership.
Start with internal security. The TTP remains a formidable threat to the security and stability of Pakistan as do the other militant and sectarian groups that have spread out across the country. In fact, militancy and terrorism are the single greatest threat to Pakistan today. The security establishment has finally accepted that fact after many years of vacillation, but now it is the political class that remains unsure about the extent of the threat. Whether it is because of the politics of Imran Khan or Punjab’s bargain with the militant devil, the PML-N government has thus far remained content with its anti-militancy strategy resting at talks about talks. That must change, and it inevitably will once the TTP settles under its new chief — for talks, as articulated by the government, is a chimera. And if talks do fail, or never get off the ground, then what is the alternative? It is not enough that the PML-N wants to raise a special counterterrorism force in Punjab. Surely, a national approach is needed and must be demanded of a prime minister who represents all of Pakistan.
The second area which needs urgent focus is the economy and the energy sector. The prime minister has talked a good talk when it comes to the economy, but, as ever, the actions don’t quite match. Take last weekend’s decision to hand over Pesco to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government after Imran Khan demanded it. By now, the PML-N should have a clear road map for reforms in the electricity sector, especially on how to turn around the various component organisations in the sector. If that were the case, then why would the PML-N just hand over a distribution company to a provincial government? It does not send a very reassuring message about the federal government’s confidence in its own plans, to say the least. And there is very little left to say about the terrible budget management of the PML-N so far.
The third challenge is of the political and governance kind. Certainly, there is unprecedented space for the democratic process in Pakistan today. But the political leadership — at the centre or in the provinces — has not been able to raise its own performance yet. Ultimately, be it the civil-military divide or the public’s disenchantment with politicians, it will take better leadership and better results by the politicians themselves to protect and strengthen the democratic project.
As for the prime minister, India and Afghanistan beckon — a historic opportunity to reset ties for the better with important neighbours who will undergo their own transitions in the year ahead. Mr Sharif has said so many of the right things about both countries and does appear to mean them. But history will only be made by a leader who is willing to lead from the front. The country can only hope Nawaz Sharif is that leader in 2014.