LAHORE: The PML-N government has been besieged by a number of challenges which put to test the statesmanship of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the most experienced politician who is the country’s chief executive for a third time.

These challenges concern evolving consensus on the $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), staying neutral in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran despite all pressures, keeping Pakistan-India dialogue process on the track and making it result-oriented, and ensuring a positive outcome of the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Every subject needs a careful handing as their outcome will have a long lasting effect on the country.

In case the government successfully steers the country through these difficult times it will get enormous political benefits.

When China came up with the $46 billion investment plan for Pakistan, the government felt proud of being able to attract the heaviest ever package that would enhance the country’s stature at the international level. But, wittingly or unwittingly, efforts have been started by various leaders and parties to sabotage the project by making it controversial on various grounds.

Political parties are expressing reservations, which the government has not been able to address satisfactorily. In fact, when everything about the CPEC had been agreed upon at an APC in May last year, there was no justification for any side to make any departure. But KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) chief Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai, former Balochistan chief minister Akhtar Mengal and Jamaat-e-Islami leaders said in statements that the government was not honouring its commitments about the gigantic project.

Even the leader of opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah wrote a letter to the prime minister expressing reservations on projects related to the CPEC and called the initiatives taken on the project ‘Punjab-centric’. He asked the premier to adhere to the decisions reached at the APC held over the project in May last year.

Because of the differences among the parties the Chinese embassy in Islamabad felt upset.

In what is rather an unusual step the embassy urged the political parties to address their differences in order to create favourable conditions for the completion of CPEC project.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Islamabad expressed the hope that “relevant parties should strengthen their communication and coordination on the matter”.

"We are ready to work with Pakistanis, to actively promote construction of CPEC projects, and bring tangible benefits to the people of the two countries,” the spokesman added.

“CPEC benefits Pakistan as a whole and will bring development and benefits to the people of the country,” he said.

The matter is not very simple as it has some other dimensions as well. For example, China doesn’t like to make investment in what is a disputed territory, a reference to Gilgit-Baltistan. There are reports that the Pakistan government is now considering to give G-B the status of a province of Pakistan. The proposed move has raised many an eyebrow. Even the AJK government, led by the PPP, has opposed the move. Media reports say that in case the G-B was made a province, Pakistan’s case on the Kashmir dispute would weaken at the international level.

It is being speculated that such a step would ultimately lead to Pakistan and India retaining the territories already under their control.

Any decision by the Pakistan government on the status of G-B would have implications for the CPEC or the fate of the disputed territory.

Decision on joining or not joining the 34-state Saudi-led coalition against terrorism and extremism will also be very difficult for the authorities to make.

Pakistan cannot afford to annoy Saudi Arabia or Iran because of its ties with them. But it is under pressure to choose between the two. The very fact that the Saudi defence minister is visiting Pakistan only four days after a visit by the kingdom’s foreign minister shows that Riyadh is not satisfied with the argument being offered for staying away from the coalition.

But if Islamabad threw its weight behind the coalition, the Shia community could create problems for the government.

Relations between Pakistan and India are another difficult area. Only a few months ago Indian Prime Minister Modi had boastfully recalled the role India as a state and he as an individual had played in the liberation of Bangladesh – or disintegration of Pakistan. But the very same leader is received with open arms by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at his Jati Umra residence. Is it not very strange that the prime minister of what is regarded as an enemy country was received so warmly by the businessman prime minister of Pakistan.

Has India changed its policy towards Pakistan? Does Modi regret his role in the dismemberment of Pakistan? If not, how can one trust that India really wants to improve ties with Pakistan?

Several rounds of talks at various levels were held in the past, but within no time the situation got back to square one. No miracle can be expected even if the foreign secretaries of the two states meet on Jan 15 or if some more meetings are held subsequently.

The Afghan quagmire also continues to be a challenge for the PML-N government. In case there is a peace between the Afghan government and Taliban, Pakistan would be able to heave a sigh of relief. Otherwise, the situation on the western border would remain as uncertain as on the eastern one.