A seasoned politician, who has been through thick and thin, has staged a convincing comeback. A 63-year old Nawaz Sharif armed with a comfortable majority in the National Assembly, and with the most populous province in the charge of a dynamic younger brother, holds the helm of the country’s affairs. How well will he deliver?
He has promised a wholesome change and his first few steps have been reassuring. He looked forward to PTI making a coalition government in KPK  and managed to entrust Balochistan to a somewhat progressive Baloch leader along with a Pakhtun representative party.
His immediate challenges are to address the electricity supply shortage, help improve the economy, find ways and means of reducing the crippling deficits, increase revenue and pay off heavy debts. The third urgent challenge is lawlessness compounded by terrorism and drone attacks.
In his first speech at the floor of the National Assembly, the PML-N Prime Minister avoided hyperbole and focused on the enormous tasks he must undertake to come up to the people’s expectations. He said: “We have chalked out plans to tackle all issues, including loadshedding. I will soon address the nation and disclose these steps…….We respect the sovereignty of others and they should respect our sovereignty and independence. The (drone) campaign must come to an end.” He remarked: “We will not discriminate against provincial governments and will extend all possible cooperation and support to them.” He promised cooperation and support to the Sindh government for restoring law and order in Karachi.
Mian Sahib appreciated the previous government’s handing over the Gwadar Port to the Chinese management and spoke about plans discussed with the Chinese Prime Minister during his recent visit to link Gwadar via rail and road to Khunjrab and beyond. He observed that the doors of dictatorship had been closed and governments in future would come and go through the democratic process. He emphasised that all the people of the country would be treated equally.
That democracy was vital for the country. That no single party could meet the massive problems faced by the nation. He said he would approach all the heads of political parties for their support: “I will ask them to come and help develop a national agenda to steer the country out of its problems. We all want peace and prosperity and so we should come and sit together and discuss the steps needed to root out extremism.” He also added that a procedure would be adopted and advertised by which expatriates will be invited to come and serve the country.
Mian Sahib made a pledge to put a stop to nepotism and curb corruption, and that his government would not tolerate corrupt practices and those found doing so would face strict accountability. One has to wait for his detailed address to the nation to assess the priorities of his government and how he would be seeking to solve the most pressing problems.
Overarching the new governments’ agenda are certain issues of crucial importance, which will, to a large extent, determine the capacity and continuing constraints of the administration. These relate to the future civil-military relations and matters pertaining to foreign policy.
With the army closely involved in handling foreign policy and security affairs, will a chastened Nawaz Sharif watch his step, while seeking to establish the civilian supremacy? General Kayani’s self-restraint served the country well. What kind of mindset will his successor bring to bear on the military’s relationship with the elected civilian government? A lot will hang on this question. An equally important issue is our future relations with USA, Afghanistan and India (in a sense both the mentioned issues are intertwined).
One has to recognise that these three countries and their governments share, to a considerable extent, an agenda that by no means is favourable for Pakistan. While Pakistan cannot afford to have unfriendly relations with any of these countries, the drone strikes, Hamid Karzai’s attitude and the TTP’s activities have created serious problems for Islamabad.
Many more questions have yet to be resolved. What kind of influence, for instance, will Pakistan be wielding in Afghanistan when the US forces withdraw in 2014? How much of US military will remain stationed after the withdrawal? What kind of role will Karzai’s successor government play in the endgame? How strong, competent and loyal will be the Afghan Army after the Americans leave Afghanistan? Will the Americans succeed in arriving at some sort of a settlement with Mullah Umar and his Taliban forces? What exactly is India doing in Afghanistan, having already invested more than $2 billion in projects there? What are the details of the measures already taken by India in pursuance of the Afghanistan-India Strategic Partnership Agreement? How will these affect Pakistan’s interests internally and in the region? What are American or Anglo-American plans for Pakistan in the emerging scheme of things, which include building up India as the regional policeman? To what extent will China be safeguarding Pakistan’s interests in the region, considering that it already is involved in mineral extraction and supply there and has its sensitivities about terrorism spreading to its Western areas? What are the possibilities of Iran’s interests coinciding with Pakistan in Afghanistan, keeping in view previous differences and the gas pipeline project?
These and many related questions will have to be addressed, while determining our future foreign policy and security strategies.
It has been said that the outgoing government had no clearly devised and defined foreign policy. Matters relating to foreign and security were left to the army. It is good that a set of guidelines to our Ambassadors abroad have been communicated by the new government.
Nawaz Sharif’s assets are his long experience, his considerable popularity, yearning for change on the part of the people at large as well as a fairly good team possessing expertise. He will have to make maximum use of these favourable factors smoothly carrying with him other political parties and provincial governments.
He is in a hurry to draw up an order of priorities. First things first, he has to put the house in order. While undertaking various tasks he must remember that his reforms and solutions would not last long unless underpinned by a roadmap in regard to literacy-education-health for all, alleviation of poverty, environmental issues, population control, urban renewal and management, rural land adjustments and, above all, good governance. Most of these are provincial concerns. But a national vision, national coordination and national monitoring must remain essential prerequisites for achieving the desired national goals.
    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a political and international relations analyst.