A TV anchor was interviewing the federal minister for planning and development. How come, your party promised to break the “Kashkole” but is actually holding a large one in its hands, asked the anchor. Ahsan Iqbal parried the charge saying that dollars had to be borrowed from IMF to pay back the loans by the previous governments. That was the only way Pakistan could escape default. The money obtained was not used to finance country’s projects. How good was the Ministers explanation? I leave the matter to economists to assess. The fact remains that the government is grievously  beset with daunting economic difficulties.

Although numbers-wise the PML-N has a comfortable position at the centre and in the Punjab, the numerous political, economic foreign affairs and governance issues are quite unsettling.

Of the three big challenges of the economy, electricity and law and order compounded by terrorism, commendable steps have been taken to increase power supply by accelerating work on the stalled projects and expeditiously start new schemes. The economy however remains in a state of crisis and tough decisions to raise revenue increasing power tariff and petroleum prices have lowered the government popularity. Prime Minister’s intervention to control lawlessness in Karachi has yielded dividends but how sustained this effort is remains to be seen.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has covered a lot of ground in the field of foreign affairs. His first visit was to China. It was important for him to renew personal relations with the new top Chinese leadership. The visit has yielded good results a major manifestation of it being a large-sized nuclear plant in Karachi.

Keen as Nawaz was to meet Manmohan Singh, he did have a short sitting with him in New York on the sidelines of the UN general Assembly session. His eagerness to forge close relations with India has found hardly any response. Manmohan Singh stubbornly refuses to visit Pakistan. He has, on the other hand, branded Pakistan as “the epicenter of terrorism”. The exchange of fire at the LOC and the Indian army chief’s anti-Pakistan statements have strengthened belligerent lobbies in India. Although over the years infiltration at the LOC has come down to a trickle, New Delhi is said to be planning a wall across it.

Recently during his visit to Azad Kashmir Nawaz spoke about “his dream of seeing held Kashmir free from the Indian occupation during his life time”. But quickly came the reaction from Manmohan Singh. He took notice of the report in India that Sharif had said “Kashimir is a flash point and can trigger a fourth war between the two nuclear powers any time” and pooh-poohed the idea of taking the valley by force. (Sharif’s office has denied the statement attributed to him). It is time Mian Sahib reviews his effusive approach towards India and realise the gravity of the situation.

PM’s meeting with US Administration officials and with President Obama in Washington, has helped diffuse the growing estrangement between Pakistan and USA because of a number of episodes during the last two years. As a result of these meeting, there are signs of the two sides focusing on matters of mutual interest with particular reference to Pakistan’s economic needs. However, on drones, there was no positive response. Nawaz has also been to Turkey and Afghanistan. Turkey is a very good friend and the two peoples enjoy fraternal relations. Afghanistan poses problems. Karzai despite rhetoric remains a slim customer. Pakistan has released some Afghan prisoners and Nawaz readily acceded to the demand for Mulla Baradar to meet the designated Afghan nationals. Afghanistan will remain a source of trouble for Pakistan for quite some time to come. The latest vibes from Washington indicate that USA is not leaving Afghanistan. While bulk of the combat troops would go by the end of next year, its military presence will remain. Pakistan has to play its cards sagaciously in this end-game.

It is on the terrorism front that the Nawaz government has been found wanting. While it took the lead in holding the All Parties Conference meeting and thus got the unanimous mandate for initiating talks with the Taliban, it took much too long to move ahead and hold the dialogue. By the time it claimed to have put in place the beginning of contacts with the Taliban leadership, a US drone strike killed the Taliban chief. Unfortunately the new chief is a known “enemy” of the Pakistan establishment and therefore the prospects for resumption of talks have receded considerably. Despite the drone strike set-back, government should have pressed ahead exploring ways and means to open contacts with the senior Taliban commanders. No such effort is visible at the moment. The alternative is fraught with the probability of escalating terrorism in the country. It also has to be realised that the fight if continued would not yield desirable results for many years. Can Pakistan afford this disastrous outcome?

If Pakistan’s most crucial objective is to revive and strengthen the country, we have somehow to ensure that there is peace in the country. Peace talks therefore must be seriously tried. After all the Fata militants are Pakistanis. They need to be listened to and accommodated without prejudice to our constitutional imperatives. The prevalent state of uncertainty is a sure recipe to keep the investors out and as is already happening, driving them to look for better pastures.

Has the PML-N government aptly handled the PTI’s stand and agitation for stopping the drone strikes. The answer is not in the affirmative. PML-N leadership should have been building a bridge with the PTI -- considering the earlier decision of all parties that drone attacks must stop. Nawaz should have held discussions with Imran Khan conveying to him his government’s reservations about the PTI’s resolve to take action to halt the flow of Nato supplies. The pressing need for doing so should not have allowed ego to stand in his way. Instead there have been taunting statements from the PML-N, leaders that PTI was double-faced entity, stopping containers on the one hand and availing of the America funds for projects (started earlier) on the other, accusing the party to divert public attention from KP government’s (alleged) “failure” to fulfill the party promises. Such pinpricks have hardened the PTI stance and these days its Dharna outside the parliament has heightened the sense of confrontation with the PML-N. As stated in my last column, it might have been politically wise if Imran had called on Nawaz and had taken him into confidence about his plans about the Nato supplies. Possibly some sort of common understanding might have developed and the rapidly increasing tension would not have taken place.

Even now Nawaz should take the initiative of meeting Imran to manage the worsening situation. He also needs to pay more attention to the demands for good governance, avoiding pitfalls regarding appointments and dismissals. 

With all kinds of troublesome issues and problems hitting PML-N government from all sides – internal and external – with a noisy media and a pro-active higher judiciary – watching, monitoring and unsparing in the exercise their powers, only a myopic leadership would allow itself to be beleaguered by further trouble and turbulence.

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