LAHORE - The new election manifesto that the PML-N came up with on Thursday indicates that the party has changed its views about a number of issues and dropped the subjects from its agenda that could obstruct its likely return to power at the federal level after some 14 years.

The commitments made in the manifesto, in some cases, are in conflict with what the party government practised in Punjab during its past five years, and before that when the party ruled the country till being thrown out in the 1999 military coup.

Analysts say the priorities set in the manifesto need a review to make the document responsive to the present-day conditions.

The law and order situation is so bad that nobody feels secure. Many say that if no steps are taken to stamp out terrorism, holding of the elections will be very difficult. Some think that the electoral process could be a casualty if the terrorists stepped up their activities in the days and weeks ahead.

In spite of this precarious situation, the PML-N has not given the law and order situation the priority it deserves. It is mentioned on pages 31 and 32 of the 34-page document containing Mr Sharif’s talking points.

The party believes that terrorism and militancy cannot be stamped out just by the use of force. “To deal with it, an effective and all-encompassing strategy has been formulated”, the manifesto says.

To restore peace in Karachi, the manifesto commits the party to purge and reform the police and launch an indiscriminate operation against the criminals.

Compared to this, the 2008 manifesto had this to say: “The number of people with an extremist mindset in Pakistan is very small, but there is much larger number of people, especially in NWFP and the Tribal areas, who regard the war on terror as a campaign against Islam. The use of force is and will remain necessary against foreign and local terrorists who take innocent lives and also to prevent infiltration across the Pakistan border, but it is even more important to win the hearts and minds of people who support them, through a concerted process of political engagement.”

The first point (or priority) of the PML-N manifesto is the revival of economy.

Needless to point out that the goal cannot be achieved unless the law and order situation is set right.

It is because of a deteriorating law and order, daily blasts and killings that many locals have shifted their industries to other countries and capitalists are transferring their money abroad, as a result of which the foreign exchange reserves are fast depleting. No foreign investor is willing to invest in Pakistan because by doing so they will be putting their lives and money at risk.

This means that law and order situation should be the top priority for any government. The second priority in the manifesto is overcoming the energy crisis, as a result of which the country is suffering an annual loss of $5,000 million.

Although the manifesto says that circular debt would be cleared, Thar coal, hydel, wind, solar and biomass sources would be put into use to meet the energy shortages, it is silent on the Kalabagh Dam, of which the PML-N was once a strong supporter. Even the ministry of water and power told the parliament only a few days ago the benefits of this project.

The PML-N doesn’t talk of this project anymore because it doesn’t want to annoy its voters in smaller provinces.

A party which is accepting electables of all shades of opinion to its fold, turning a blind eye to their unforgivable past, cannot be expected to risk losing votes in any province just for the sake of this project.

The 2008 manifesto had committed the party to set up a Federal Constitutional Court to resolve constitutional issues, giving equal representation to each of the federating units. The Supreme and High Courts will hear regular civil and criminal cases.

Although the PPP-led coalition did not set up such a court during the past five years, the new PML-N manifesto is silent on the subject.

The PML-N leadership has always castigated Gen Pervez Musharraf for starting the Kargil conflict at a time when ties between Pakistan and India were improving and both were close to settling the Kashmir dispute.

The 2008 PML-N manifesto said: “A Commission shall also examine and identify the causes of and fix responsibility for the Kargil crisis of 1999.”

No such commitment has been made in the new manifesto, although the ‘architect’ of the crisis (Musharraf) has announced that he will be returning to Pakistan within a week of the installation of a caretaker government.

Perhaps, the PML-N leadership doesn’t want to strain its relations with the army which it had ‘improved’ after hectic efforts and through invisible mediations.

It is also perhaps for the same reason that the new manifesto says that the services chiefs will be appointed on the basis of ‘seniority’.

In 1998, Mr Sharif had appointed Gen Musharraf as COAS, bypassing his seniors, only because he did not have a group of supporters and thus was not in a position to pose any threat to the government. What such a man without any supporter did to the Sharifs is history.

The PML-N manifesto says that the defence budget will be presented before the parliament. Although such a step was also taken in the past, the defence budget was never debated. And unless its allocations for various heads are discussed, the mere presentation of the defence budget in the house is an exercise in futility.

The previous manifesto committed the party to revamp the National Accountability Bureau and replace it with an independent accountability commission which will also be empowered to hold the judiciary and the armed forces accountable.

There is no such provision in the new manifesto.

Also, the idea of setting up district ombudsmen offices has been abandoned by the leadership.

The manifesto says that one million jobs would be created for the youth and they will be given representation in local bodies.

Some months ago, the Punjab chief minister had said that 25 per cent of election tickets would be given to the youth. It was a good incentive to get their support.

But no such commitment has been made in the new manifesto.

In fact, the election tickets will for the billionaires, turncoats, tax dodgers and others of the same flock.