The third coming of PML-N and Nawaz Sharif to the country’s helm, along with an impressive mandate, is beset with all sorts of stubborn political, economic and administrative problems.

These problems are complex and deep-rooted.

The inherited economy is in tatters. Industry is close to a collapse. Look at Karachi and Faisalabad - the country’s manufacturing hubs. There is breakdown of law and order in our major metropolitan city. In the rest of the country, power shortage and loadshedding do not allow the wheels of industry to run efficiently.

Can a country move forward, if it severely remains short of electricity, in this day and age?

If an uncaring Musharraf failed to add to our power resources, what was the elected government doing to remedy the situation during the last five years?

The country’s debt has jumped to an all-time high, making heavy borrowings necessary to avoid default. We have reached a stage when money has to be borrowed to pay for the previous loans.

The last five years saw new records of high corruption and soaring mismanagement. One wonders what more would not have been done by our rulers, if the higher courts, especially the Supreme Court, had not taken upon themselves to address the shenanigans of our rulers and saved the country from further loot and plunder.

Above all, the most formidable challenge to the new administration is the escalating terrorism hitting targets all over the country. There has been a failure of law and order in many parts of Pakistan. The intelligence agencies are themselves under attack. The militants appear to be gaining ground and, in fact, the upper hand. Last year’s Bannu jailbreak reflected how critical the situation had become. A mirror occurrence was seen the other day in Dera Ismail Khan.

The external situation too is daunting. Relations with the sole superpower have been, for quite some time, at a low ebb. Raymond Davis, Salala and Abbottabad are names with humiliating and unwholesome memories.

The vibes from the large neighbour on the East have been quite negative. Troubling incidents occur on the border now and then. Apparently, there is no more talk about resolving lingering disputes. The frequent message received is: curb and control terrorists. Despite repeated requests, the Indian Prime Minister refuses to come to Pakistan. Relations with Afghanistan too are problematic. Fairly frequently, Islamabad is accused of exporting terrorism. President Hamid Karzai would rather have Indians as friends. Pakistan is the bad boy.

Into this forbidding set of conditions, in walks Nawaz Sharif. Equipped as he is with a long and searing experience, he starts well. It was a statesman-like act, letting a nationalist Baloch make the government in Balochistan and agreeing to allow PTI assume power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

While the new Prime Minister has been speaking of harmony and good relationship with the political parties in the opposition, he overlooks the state of mind of those who lost - in particular PPP and PTI - the latter nursing a grievance of blatant rigging in a number of constituencies. While PPP has been somewhat subdued, confined as it is mostly to Sindh, Imran Khan is quite assertive.

Also, it seems, PML-N is not fully prepared to deal with an impetuous media (especially TV channels), out to highlight the government’s failings and slip-ups. More than the political opposition, it is the media that has ruthlessly taken the PML-N rulers to task.

The PML-N and in particular Nawaz Sharif have in the past suffered from tactical weaknesses. A glaring example was the way Sharif tried to dismiss the Chief of Army Staff in 1998. It was a move - clumsy and lacking finesse. It cost him his job and earned for him imprisonment, exile and deep misery. Earlier, he had run into serious trouble while relating himself with the then Presidents Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Ahmad Leghari.

Adversity had no doubt chastened him. His Charter of Democracy was a remarkable act of wisdom. His conduct during Zardari’s regime earned for his party the epithet of a “friendly opposition”. He was criticised for not playing the role of a watchful player. But he stuck to his plea for the survival of democracy so that the system would continue. A balance sheet has, however, yet to be drawn of the gain and the loss, this approach cost his party and the country.

In character with his indiscretions or defaults indicated above, he unwittingly has provided grist to the mill of his critics, detractors and the political opposition. The media and the opposition accuse him of giving too much importance and patronage to his own province - the Punjab. In his entourage of the trip to China and in the closet briefings at the ISI secretariat, a prominent participant was the Punjab Chief Minister (who happens to be his younger brother) while Chief Ministers of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were kept away. These acts of omission have been repeatedly mentioned in TV discussions. There also are charges of inaction and lethargy in taking urgent and important decisions. For instance, two months have elapsed and the Cabinet in Balochistan has yet to be completed because the Prime Minister has no time to attend to this task. The Balochistan Chief Minister has publicly complained about this lapse. Why are the vital posts of Pakistan’s Ambassador at Washington and London still unfilled? Where is the new security policy and strategy? Why this dilly-dallying?

Add to these faults, the sudden dash of the leading PML-N leaders to Karachi to embrace (erstwhile “unwholesome”) the MQM. What a song and dance, it was! The PML-N’s earlier view of Altaf’s party was repeatedly aired by TV channels. If at all such a somersault was considered politically necessary, couldn’t this be done in a different way, maybe in a sober and dignified fashion?

Last but not the least, a word about the way the presidential election has been handled. Surely, a more acceptable approach might have been found to arrive at a suitable date for the election, in consultation with PPP and PTI. It is most unfortunate that the newly-elected President has become controversial with the second largest political party abstaining from voting for the office.

There are yet more arrows in the detractors’ bows: a transaction or a financial act that may have dubious undertone. Like the Nandipur cost escalations and payments to certain parties, also in regard to the circular debt disbursements. Such charges and insinuations must be dealt with sensibly, at once. If not immediately addressed, they stick and do a lot of damage.

As a final word, Prime Minister Sharif possesses extensive political experience. He faces enormous and extremely exacting problems and challenges. He has a good team and considerable political clout. Yet, he needs to unlearn a little to avoid the mistakes and slip-ups like the ones identified in this column. To succeed in his formidable tasks, besides political vision and expertise in governance, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has to be careful in the way he proceeds to do things, avoiding tactical pitfalls and slip-ups.

n    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a political and international relations analyst.