The PML-N government these days is being dubbed in the media as anti-people, indecisive and lackluster. One may not subscribe to such sharp criticism but there is little doubt that prices have gone up, power tariff has increased, petrol and related products have become a lot more expensive and all this has added to the misery of the masses. Take note of the rapid falling of the rupee. There is also news that $ 25 million are being smuggled out of the country every day and that currency notes worth billions are being printed, beating all previous notorious records.

The finance minister has sought to give reasons for securing more than of 6 billion dollars loan from IMF. He had to do so because of the calamitous state of the economy inherited by the incoming government. Routine explanations by him, other ministers and spokespersons for the steep rise in the prices of everyday commodities and other burdens imposed on the common man, do not cut much ice with the opposition and the media who are out to find fault even with some of the positive and wholesome steps taken. The prime minister’s announcement, for instance, of committing 20 billion rupees for a number of projects for the youth is already yesterday’s news yielding little appreciation.

A leading anchor on a popular TV channel last Wednesday devoted most of his one hour programme to an assessment of the government’s performance. The prime minister was taken to task for being lethargic in making important appointments and failing to take quick and timely decisions to fill such critical posts as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It took the PM four months to fill the key ambassadorial slots. Ministers of law, defence and foreign affairs have yet to be appointed. And the much delayed appointment of chairman NAB has evoked mixed reactions, PTI Chief criticizing it as an example of “Muk Muka” by PML-N and PPP.

According to the mentioned anchor, an impression is gaining ground that nothing has changed after the elections. Perhaps, the one crucial issue that has attracted the most damning and damaging disapproval of the Nawaz Sharif leadership, has been the extremely slow pace of action to implement the APC unanimous decision to start talks for peace with the Taliban of Pakistan. Instead of moving swiftly to engage the terrorists, valuable time was wasted. In the meantime there was a rapid increase in the acts of terrorism all over the country and in particular in Peshawar where an attack outside a church killed around one hundred Christians—a piece of news splashed all over the world. A serving Major General and two senior military officers were murdered in Dir. Yesterday was a terrible day with bomb blasts in all the four provinces killing innocent citizen.

In an interview with the BBC radio, Hakim Ullah Mehsud has said that government was not serious to open talks. Taking advantage of the government’s drift, he has stiffened his stand by laying down tough conditions like the cessation of drone strikes and the exit of military from FATA. More than perhaps other political leaders, Nawaz Sharif fully understands that little by way of real progress in various fields especially the economy of the country can take place if terrorism continues to spread insecurity. Who will invest in a country where nobody is safe? Who will think well of government which fails to stop terrorist strikes?

What is most surprising and disappointing is that no spadework appears to have been done to work out a plan for initiating talks—with whom, through whom, when and where. Is there a mechanism which will keep addressing obstacles and glitches and how an agreement, if and when reached, will be put in practice? What makes the government default all the more serious is that it has had the backing of all the parties and the chief of the army.

At the same time, it would be ungenerous not to recognize Nawaz Sharif’s initial commendable initiatives in letting PTI and a nationalist party form governments in KPK and Balochistan. His move to take the bull by the horns in Karachi is also laudable. Also his quick promising and productive visits to China and Turkey. It was good for him to persuade President Karzai to visit Pakistan although despite pleasing rhetoric on his part and later releasing of senior Taliban prisoners, there has been little change in the Afghan President’s attitude towards Pakistan so closely is he allied with the Indians.

It is in his quest for forging normal relations with India that Nawaz Sharif tasted an unsavoury disenchantment. His insistence on a meeting with Manmohan Singh did earn him a little talk on the sidelines of the September UN General Assembly session but cost him a damning denunciation of Pakistan by India as “the epicenter of terrorism”, and the involvement of the state of Pakistan in exporting terrorism across the border through non-state actors—the Indian foreign minister adding insult to injury by pooh-poohing Pakistan where the military was not under the control of the civilian government. This was indeed an unkind cut in view of the fact that the army high command, of late, has been according due respect and cooperation to the civilian government demonstrating an impression that it willingly abides by the governments policy and directives.

Urgently, Mian Nawaz Sharif needs to undertake a thorough introspection and indentify the defaults and failings he and his government have been suffering from. How is it that despite sincere and well intentioned hard work, the general impression amongst the public and the media has been more or less negative. (One has, of course, to keep in mind that the new government from the very start has been beset with awesome tasks and formidable challenges.)

Although the government has a fairly competent and experienced Information Minister a lot more of timely and effective communication is called for. The public needs to be taken into confidence if there is delay in taking decisions explaining why progress in a particular matter was slow. Again the people should be well informed and their minds prepared in advance, when tough decisions are to be taken, which might add to people’s already irksome hardships. Last but not the least prompt and well thought out information should be aired by senior government spokesmen whenever a particular move/decision is made which may smack of handing out benefits to near and dear ones and favourites. A quick, well-reasoned explanatory statement will help dissolve ensuring insinuations and even accusations articulated in various ways by the detractors and the media.  

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