In May, PML-N staged a dramatic comeback. As elections go in a third-world country, the polls were by and large fair. PTI, however, refused to accept some of the results. It continues to lodge protests and is unhappy with the Supreme Court for not taking up its petitions. It has been advised by the Court to lodge cases with the election tribunals.

Armed with a substantial mandate, Nawaz Sharif found himself blessed with another opportunity to serve the nation. This time, the problems faced by the incoming government are most formidable. The security situation, the state of the economy, severe power shortages and unending loadshedding, industrial production at a low ebb, escalating debt liabilities, rampant corruption, murderous mayhem in Karachi, breakdown of law and order as well as insurgency in Balochistan along with a war going on in the North-West extraordinary external issues—all these together constituted unprecedented challenges.    

What has been the PML-N’s performance in the first hundred days?

One has to concede that the new government started well by letting other political parties form provincial governments in KPK and Balochistan. And it has not shirked the stupendous tasks it was expected to attend to. In fact it moved fairly fast to take up the top job of addressing the economic issues. One may question the wisdom of securing a large loan from IMF but having decided to go for it, the government managed to get the required loan successfully, the plea put forward being that this was necessary to avoid default and to pay back the dues of previous piled up debt. 

In the months to come, one will see how the new administration meets the goals set in the party manifesto with particular reference to reducing deficits, increasing tax-to-GDP ratio and enhance investments.

A notable initiative was the Prime Minister’s visit to China where besides meeting senior Chinese leaders, Nawaz was able to forge a number of economic projects agreements. One may, in particular mention the ones relating to Gwadar seaport and the corridor linking it to China via the Karakaram highway. These also included collaborative joint schemes pertaining to power plants. The Gadani coal electricity projects have already been finalized. Steps have also been taken to sort out constraints and factors which had held up the Nandipur and Neelam- Jhelum hydal schemes.

The preposterous menace of terrorism has remained unaddressed. Although the Prime Minister has been holding important consultations with the army chief and related military and intelligence agencies and the Minister for Interior has held lengthy press conferences talking about the contours of the new security policy and strategies, the final decisions have yet to be taken. The much-trumpeted all parties conference deferred all this while, is now reported to be due to be held next week. This problem, crucial as it is for the improvement of the economy and well being of the people at large, must be dealt with without delay. Linked to it is the question of drones which has been hanging fire for the last many years and must be resolved expeditiously.

The administration’s action in handling the Balochistan insurgency and law and order situation there, too has left much to be desired. There is little progress in the matter of recovery of the missing persons despite the repeated directives of the Supreme Court. One also wonders why it is taking so much time for Nawaz Sharif to help complete the composition of the Balochistan cabinet.

The situation on the external front too, problematic as it is, demands careful attention. The shelling across the LoC has thrown a spanner in the works of the planned improvement of Indo-Pak relations. Manmohan Singh has stuck to his unwillingness to visit Pakistan and the long-looked-up-to meeting of the two Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly has yet to be finally firmed up. Afghanistan-Pakistan relations continue to be uneasy with President Karzai making unwholesome statements about Pakistan. Sartaj Aziz’s timely visit to Kabul was helpful in Karzai’s agreeing to come to Pakistan. His visit, however, did not yield much of positive change in the relations. Nawaz Sharif’s effort to develop a personal rapport with him, however, was a good move.

Relations with USA have been somewhat strained mainly because of the nonstop drone strikes. Kerry’s visit delayed as it was, despite assurances, did not result in any meaningful improvement. Pakistan needs to attract more investment and a larger presence in the US market.

It is indeed odd to find that all these three months, we have not had an ambassador in Washington. Why this delay? Such lethargic approach to an important foreign affairs matter reflects a serious deficiency at the Prime Minister’s level. It is also time that a new NAB chief is put in place.

Three areas where the new government has not done well are: One, providing relief to the people particularly the poor and the lower middle classes. Increase in the electricity rates (despite some concession to the poorest of the poor) and in the prices of petrol, diesel and kerosene oil have evoked sharp protests as higher prices of these essentials items also drive up the cost of other commodities and services. If such increase cannot be avoided, the public should be taken into confidence and educated regarding the necessity of such enhanced burdens.

Two, inordinate delay in addressing the unpardonable  problems relating to the badly managed state-owned enterprises (SOEs) which together eat up almost 500 billion rupees every year. Even the chief executives have not yet been replaced.

Three, there is need for demonstration of transparency in whatever government does. For instance there has been talk about the Rs 480 billion paid to clear the circular debt. Critics have been wondering where the money came from and how and to whom it was given. There has been speculations about the parties concerned and their relationships with the PML-N top leaders. The detractors have also been making oblique remarks about the steep increase in the Nandipur power project and who have been or would be the beneficiaries of such add-ups. It would help dispel speculation about implied collusions if the concerned government functionaries come out with detailed facts and figures along with the requisite explanations.

Such transparency has become all the more necessary because of an aggressive open and often overly critical media especially the TV channels which frequently go overboard in dishing out accusations and even holding some sort of inquisitorial probes. Our judiciary, too, is watchful of aberrations on the part of the politicians and public officials. 

Last but not the least one must very much appreciate Nawaz Sharif’s determined efforts to resolve the almost intractable law and order problem in Karachi. It was good to see the federal cabinet meeting in Karachi and the federal government making a sincere and serious endeavour to seek the cooperation of all political parties and law enforcing agencies to take the bull by the horns. One looks forward to good results coming out of this admirable move. It will also be only fair to acknowledge the characteristically dynamic approach of the Punjab Chief Minister to grapple with the challenges faced by the province. 

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