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The Third Coming

Written by S. M. Hali  •  Cover Stories  •  May 2013 PDF Print E-mail

Nawaz Sharif is leading the government for the third time. But it has not been an easy climb and it is uncertain whether his stay will be any easier.

Mian Nawaz Sharif (MNS) has assumed the mantle of Prime Minister of Pakistan for the third time, following Pakistan Muslim League (N)’s sweeping victory in the May 2013 polls, placing the elder Sharif in a position to follow his manifesto in delivering what the Pakistanis desire. MNS will serve Pakistan after a constant five-year struggle in the opposition to the PPP-led government.

This turnaround to the altar of power has been a thorny path: from being deposed, incarcerated and later exiled for ten years by General Pervez Musharraf. The 2008 general elections earned his party very few seats and he had to play second fiddle to Zardari’s PPP. Despite being a signatory to the Charter of Democracy with Benazir Bhutto and having joined the coalition government of PPP, MNS had to suffer the ignominy of ridicule and being let down by a recurrently reneging Zardari. MNS got a number of chances to exploit the corruption, mismanagement and bad governance of the PPP led government and set the Zardari coterie packing through street power but even at the cost of earning the dubious title of a “friendly opposition”, MNS confined his party to parliamentary practices, not wanting to upset the applecart of democracy. Meanwhile, his younger brother Mian Shahbaz Sharif, former Chief Minister of Punjab, gained popularity through development and relief projects.

The persistence and patience of MNS bore fruit, as the people rejected PPP for its corrupt and inefficient rule and favored MNS for sticking to democratic principles. Apart from that, MNS ran a fierce election campaign while his voracious appetite for success was whetted by an equally aggressive election campaign run by Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which brutally attacked the policies and past weaknesses of MNS. PTI made a severe dent in the vote bank of PML (N), grabbing 30 seats in the National Assembly, which divided the votes in favor of PML (N)’s opponents. However, MNS achieved victories, both in Punjab and the Centre, gaining victory to lead the National Parliament without the crutches of coalition partners, who usually demand their proverbial pound of flesh for their support and become a millstone around the neck of parliamentary leaders.

MNS’s electoral success has begrudgingly been accepted by his opponents although there are complaints of rigging in some polling centers in Punjab and Karachi, which is being examined by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Overall, the statesman-like attitude of MNS has won him the respect of his opponents. He has not only reached out to all his rivals, extending them the olive branch, but also personally visited Imran Khan at a local hospital, where he is recuperating following injuries received in a campaign accident. The visit helped take the sting out of the bitterly contested election campaign and urged both leaders to jointly strive to resolve the myriad problems Pakistan is facing.

The two previous tenures of MNS as the Parliamentary leader earned him mixed reviews. Whereas he strove to improve the economy of Pakistan, the heavy mandate gave him a swollen head. He sacked two Services Chiefs, becoming emboldened to crackdown on a dissenting media, take on the President and the Chief Justice and unceremoniously sack his own handpicked Army Chief, General Pervez Musharraf, which precipitated a coup d’état and a decade’s exile for him. Hopefully he has learnt his lesson and will be more accommodating to justified criticism and not fly off the handle, seeking vengeance. He does bring the experience of two incomplete terms but much has changed in the fourteen years since his last tenure of office, when there was no free, vibrant and vocal media, which does not mince words while digging up misdeeds of the government. MNS will have to learn to deal with this new phenomenon in the Pakistani milieu and instead of trying to silence the media, he will have to ensure that his party does not offer any chances to an observant and critical media.

In his election manifesto, MNS has been vociferous towards resolving the problems facing Pakistan. Foremost among them is terrorism, which has taken a heavy toll on the nation and targeted the election campaigns of a number of mainstream political parties. The change of horses in Pakistan has come at a very critical juncture. By 2014, the international forces are likely to drawdown but Afghanistan remains strife torn. If peace and reconciliation is not established, there is a strong likelihood of an internecine war, which will adversely affect Pakistan. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is hell bent upon wreaking havoc and unless they are reined in with a combination of aggression and negotiation, they will continue to bleed Pakistan.

The other pressing issues are that of a shattered economy, tottering under massive foreign debts and acute power shortage, exacerbated by some dubious power rental deals. MNS and his team of wonder boys will have to pull off miracles otherwise, within weeks, the same voters who have gleefully voted him into power, will take to the streets demanding action. Interestingly, despite taking credit for the nuclear tests, MNS has been silent on the procurement of civil nuclear energy, which is the demand of the day.

Exterior maneuver or foreign policy has not been MNS and his team’s forte. He has already committed faux pas in his recent interview in a program “Devil’s Advocate” on GNN-IBN to Karan Thapar; MNS had a discourse on every subject concerning India without having any regard to stated national policies. In his exuberance towards portraying himself as a peacenik, he forgot to mention about state terrorism sponsored by India against Pakistan through its agents like Sarabjit Singh. He did not utter a word on the cold-blooded murder of Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah in an Indian jail and nary a thought on the core issue of Kashmir, much to the chagrin of Kashmiris. Being a trader, MNS is obsessed with trade with India, but he needs to ensure that it is on an even keel without compromising national sovereignty. MNS has also been critical of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. It is not clear whether he was prompted by Iran’s arch rival Saudi Arabia or some other detractor. Pakistan is definitely facing an energy shortage and the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline is a done deal and should not be shelved under any pretext or for scoring brownie points with the Saudis.

Sharif will have to prove that he is a pragmatic leader, who has his fingers on the pulse of the people and will deliver on his campaign promises of providing them relief. He may be owing favors to the Saudis for having granted him asylum during his exile and a few other foreign countries, with whom he or his family have commercial relations. However, after assuming the mantle of power, he will have to live up to his claims of being a successor to the original Muslim League by not compromising national interests in an overzealous attempt to appease India. After all freedom for Pakistan was obtained to pursue the aspirations of the Muslims of the Sub-Continent, for whom without Independence, it would have been a change of masters from the British to the Hindus. 


Group Captain (R) Sultan M. Hali, now a practicing journalist, writes for print media, produces documentaries and hosts a TV talk show. He is currently based in Islamabad.

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