The 2013 elections were hailed as a step forward on the road to a stable democracy. PML-N took the lead at the centre and in the Punjab while in the other three provinces, the PPP, PTI and a Balochistan nationalist party set-up governments. A peaceful democratic transition had taken place.

While PTI did raise its voice against some rigging in a few constituencies, by and large all parties accepted the election results.

The incoming PML-N federal government inherited formidable economic, energy, administrative and law and order problems. It made a good start, according high priority to deal with the energy problem. It paid back the circular debt and secured financial support from China to set up new plants in various parts of the country. It managed to reopen engagement with the IMF and the government’s dynamic finance minister was able to bring an improvement in critical indicators including the value of currency and foreign exchange reserves.

The daunting challenge of terrorism too was taken up and after securing an all-parties mandate in favour of dialogue with the Taliban, steps were taken to start the talks. Here, the government was found wanting. It lost precious time and failed to seriously seize the bull by the horns. It wasted the opportunity of availing more than a month’s ceasefire declared by the Taliban. When the Taliban and other terrorist groups renewed their attacks, the option of talks practically petered out and the armed forces took the helm in their hands. Presently, a military operation- air and ground- is ongoing in North Waziristan. The enormous task of looking after the internally displaced persons is now at hand.

Another initiative taken by the government was the launching of an operation in Karachi to bring peace to the tormented metropolitan city; the menace of killings and extortion continues, slowing down the wheels of industry and making the lives of people miserable.

The one area where the government (in addition to continuing load-shedding) has failed, is inflation. The chronic defaults on account of corruption and oppressive law enforcement agencies too have remained more or less unaddressed. All in all, the PML-N’s performance during its first year could be rated as good in certain respects, starting with energy and infrastructure projects and less than satisfactory with regards to improving security and providing relief to the common man.

The importance of the role of the media these days in projecting the plus and minus of a regime’s performance can hardly be exaggerated. Unfortunately, the PML-N government’s management of the media has been generally weak and less than effective. For whatever reason—involvements of active anti-PML-N forces and the government’s own shortcomings—most of the electronic media has remained over critical if not hostile, towards the Sharifs.

The current crisis faced by the government has much to do with the way the top leadership has been dealing with the PTI’s grievances about rigging in the elections and how it has dealt with Maulana Qadri’s threat.

Knowing well that Imran Khan was indeed the rising star of an increasingly popular party having bagged more votes than even the PPP, his demand for the recounting of four constituencies was not taken seriously by the government. PML-N failed to foresee the possible consequences of ignoring the matter. It was unwise to adopt a negative attitude towards the PTI and subject it to un-called for taunts and jeers.

Imran Khan certainly had a legitimate case. In his party’s recent mammoth public meetings, he repeatedly complained that he had knocked at all the available doors—the election commission, the electoral tribunals and the courts including the Supreme Court but had failed to get justice.

A wise PML-N leadership should have responded to Imran’s grievances and demands and built up personal contacts to defuse the escalating situation. Imran Khan could have been clearly told that it was not for the government to provide him the desired relief as the matter was to be addressed by the tribunals and the courts. The matter unfortunately, got further complicated by the abrupt removal of the Nadra Chairman and his subsequent statements.

It may not, at the same time, be an exaggeration to say that Imran too has gone a little too far when he directly accuses the ex-chief justice of Pakistan of personal involvement with the conduct of retiring officers and also hurling serious allegations against the head of a leading group of TV channels and newspapers. A mature leader exercises restraint in such matters.

In the meantime, the blatant use of firearms against the Qadri loyalists in Model Town Lahore resulting in 14 killed and a hundred or so injured has damaged and weakened the PML-N government considerably. Add to the killings by the police, the televised show of destruction of property by Gullu Butt in collusion with the police and you get an idea of the stupidity of the local administration.

The PML-N now is facing a tsunami of Imran’s one million followers and the revolutionary march of hundreds of thousands of PAT loyalists. It looks quite odd how at this stage, the PML-N on the one hand, wants talks with Imran Khan to settle the matter relating to rigging and on the other, is adopting a stiff attitude towards the PTI. Nawaz Sharif’s move to set up a parliamentary committee to formulate electoral reforms too, has come quite late.

What is now really worrying a hard-pressed PML-N government are the long marches descending on Islamabad next month. Can Imran Khan be persuaded not to undertake the march?

It is also unclear what he really wants. Is he pushing for a new election where he hopes to achieve a landslide victory?

Is the country heading towards a confrontation?

Can Nawaz Sharif’s weakened and beleaguered government change, admit its sins of omission and commission and concede the PTI’s legitimate demands. And will Nawaz Sharif have the sagacity to neutralize the threat posed by Maulana Qadri. Its lucky that he has the expressed support of the PPP at this critical juncture.

With all their patriotic fervour and hard work, the Sharif brothers run into minefields and traps because of their failure to perceive, in time, what is happening around them and their disinclination to change their self-righteous attitude and attendant complacency.  

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