Pakistan reached the bridge and crossed it. A civilian switchover has been successfully negotiated. The people came out on a hot summer day in large numbers and at the polling booths, wrote their preferences. It was a fairly successful Third-World electoral exercise. At places, the process was found flawed. By and large, however, the world has accepted the results. Nawaz Sharif is the chosen national leader. The country faces awesome tasks. Can Nawaz deliver?
The suffering masses expect quick relief. But quick relief is not available. A mauled economy will take time to heal, recover and grow. Electricity shortage cannot be remedied overnight. The people are losing patience. Rising temperatures add to their misery.
Nawaz, who has yet to take over, in a speech in Lahore, acknowledged the urgency of doing something to halt or at least reduce the power outages, but like a wise elder counselled patience. It will take time to increase the supply, he told, an impatient crowd. How he manages this daunting task will determine how high or low his graph of popularity is going to be, in the days to come. So troubled was he, said Nawaz, to the audience, striking a note of empathy that he was having sleepless nights worrying about the problem and how he could solve it.
The economic challenge is no less daunting. Industry has suffered a decline and, in many cases, closure because of the lack of power. Reserves are frighteningly low. The rupee has nosedived. The debt is high and there are heavy paybacks. Add to these the budgetary and balance-of-payments deficits. There also are the difficult issues of inflation, rising prices and escalating unemployment.
Terrorism has shaken the foundations of the state and the society. More than 50,000 lives have fallen victim to it during the last few years. Almost $100 billion have been lost. Rampant corruption is yet another evil, which has eaten up the vitals of the economy and the society.
No less depressing is the situation in Balochistan. Good that a number of alienated political groups have come into the mainstream, having participated in the recent national and provincial elections. Estrangement and lawlessness remain unrestrained. The good news is that PML-N will be the leading coalition partner in the province and will have the cooperation of a number of Baloch and Pathan political parties.
One may also mention the unending target killings in Karachi and the breakdown of law and order in this largest metropolitan city. How far will the central government help manage the Karachi affairs with MQM and PPP ruling the roost there?
The most difficult task for Nawaz Sharif is to address the war-like conditions prevailing in Fata and the adjoining areas.
Here, the problem is compounded by the fact that it has both internal and external dimensions. The trouble started after 9/11 when Musharraf suddenly initiated large-scale military operations in the border areas at the behest of the Americans. The porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan had already become a disturbed area after the US/Nato attack on Afghanistan. Once the Pakistan military opened up operations in this territory resulting in casualties and destruction of property, the old tribal administrative system practically collapsed. The situation worsened because of large-scale un-looked-after displacements. Hundreds and thousands of already existing Afghan refugees too were sucked into a largely unmanaged militancy. The presence of al-Qaeda leadership in the area provided an excuse for the US and Afghan governments to extend their covert and overt activities in the border territories. The old mujahideens of the Zia days and the extremists too jumped into the free-for-all.
One may recall here the Salala incident in which US gunships killed more than 20 Pakistani soldiers. For almost a year, the Nato supplies to Afghanistan were stopped. Later, the Americans entered the Pakistani air space and territory to kill Osama bin Laden further seriously and adversely affecting the US-Pakistan relationship.
Presently, Afghanistan keeps accusing Pakistan of harbouring Afghan militants. Pakistan is condemned for perpetrating terrorist acts whenever an incident occurs in Kabul and some other places in the war-torn country. But Pakistan too has its grievances. Known armed Pakistan militants have safe havens in Afghanistan near the border. They frequently attack security posts in Pakistan.
Further, Pakistan is accused by Washington of complicity with certain Afghan elements living in its tribal areas and also of playing a double game. On the one hand, it gets assistance from USA for fighting the terrorists and, on the other hand, it is said to be mixed up with anti-American groups, who attack the Nato troops across the border.
In this context, the most troublesome issue is the American drone strikes that hit the Taliban and al-Qaeda leaderships. The strikes have killed hundreds of civilians, besides some targeted terrorists. Recently, it has come to light that Musharraf had permitted them. But Pakistan has all along been condemning these attacks and two parliamentary resolutions have asked for their discontinuation. Washington, however, has ignored Pakistan’s protests.
Both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif have been demanding the end of these unwarranted aerial strikes. Imran especially has been vociferous about the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and impingement of its integrity. A number of research studies abroad and reports prepared by concerned UN officials have questioned the legality and propriety of these operations.
Imran’s party has formed a PTI-led coalition government in KPK. It will also have a sizeable opposition presence in the National Assembly. PTI is fiercely anti-drone strikes. Imran is on record having said that the drones should be brought down if the strikes go on unhindered. Nawaz Sharif too is of the view that these strikes must stop.
President Barack Obama, in his recent address at the National Defence University, has acknowledged the need for restraint in using the drones. He, however, has not agreed to accept the plea to stop the strikes.
This is a matter of grave importance, indeed. PML-N will have to come to some sort of a consensus about the formulation of a strategy to forcefully persuade Washington to halt the strikes. Surely, PTI will not let this issue fall by the wayside or be dealt with in a bureaucratic manner. Nawaz Sharif has to find a way out of the imbroglio. The matter needs to be taken up at high levels in Washington. If no satisfactory response comes, the issue may have to be raised internationally at the UN and, if necessary, at the International Court of Justice.
As for negotiations with the Taliban, the latest American aerial strike killing a top leader of TTP (one who was earlier involved in peace initiatives) has stiffened the Taliban’s stand. They are no longer inclined to talk. Nawaz and Imran will have to sit down to devise an approach that brings in ceasefire, leading to some sort of settlement with the ultimate aim of undertaking a reconstruction of the administrative system in Fata based on considerable local autonomy.
    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.