LAHORE  - It was in July 1998 that Mian Nawaz Sharif, as prime minister of Pakistan, participated in a SAARC summit in Colombo. From there he went to Singapore where he had an overnight stay and met his counterpart Lee Kuan Yew and asked him the secret of the city state’s economic progress.
The next morning, while flying back to Islamabad by his special plane, Mr Sharif shared the details of the meeting with the media delegation accompanying him, the writer also being one of them.
He was impressed by what he saw in the tiny state and was told by its leader.
In brief, Mr Sharif told journalists that Singapore had made unbelievable progress because there was no politics in the country and the entire focus was on economy. Then he showed us a newspaper published from Singapore and pointed out, specifically, that it carried no political news.
The situation in Pakistan, he said, could also change and the Islamic Republic could become an economic giant if there was no politicking here.
The purpose of recalling this old conversation is to remind Mr Sharif that while he is preparing to take over as prime minister for a third time, he should take effective measures to navigate the country out of the multiple crises it has been caught in. And since the economic crisis is much more serious, he should think of following Singapore’s example.
Once the formation of new government is over, unnecessary political activities should be banned till the next elections. Only such activities should be permitted which are unavoidable. Everybody should be motivated to play his/her role in overcoming the economic crisis. Protest rallies should be disallowed and problems of people from all walks of life should be discussed only by the elected representatives in parliament.
In case the people have to come out on the streets to press their demands, it would mean the elected houses are not discharging their duties properly.
Mr Sharif is returning to power after some 14 years at a time when there are serious energy and economic crises, important state institutions like the PIA, Pakistan railways, Pakistan Steel, WAPDA are on the verge of bankruptcy. Corruption is rampant, joblessness rate is very high and prices of essential items are beyond the reach of the common man.
The situation demands that concerted efforts should be made to address these problems.
The new prime minister will be in a better position to expect cooperation from the nation if he sets a personal example in various matters.
He had said in an interview some time ago that if he got another opportunity to rule the country he would not like to stay at the Prime Minister’s House from where he had been removed so disgracefully, an obvious reference to the treatment he had received on October 11, 1999, when his government was overthrown. He had hinted that he would like to stay in a small house and perform all his functions from there.
Time has come for Mr Sharif to honour his commitment.
Also, he should lead an austere life and avoid wasteful expenditure. He should also direct his party men to do the same.
Unnecessary protocols should be given up. The prime minister’s or any other VIP’s presence in a city should not be troublesome for other people. Everybody should follow the traffic signals and the practice of halting traffic to facilitate the VVIPs should be done away with.
The prime minister will soon be forming his cabinet. It will be better if he keeps the size as less as possible.
The example set by the former and the would-be chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, in this regard is worth emulating.
Mr Sharif may be under pressure to accommodate more ministers, advisers and special assistants. But as a leader he should not give in to such pressures and do only what is in the country’s interest.
The team should be selected on the basis of merit and not family links. He would be doing a great service to the country by keeping his family members away from the important positions.
Import of unnecessary goods should be banned to save the already depleting foreign exchange reserves. Anything that can be produced locally should not be imported, no matter how much international pressure. The import of luxury cars should be banned forthwith. Ministers and bureaucrats should be encouraged to use small cars, as was done by the late Muhammad Khan Junejo as prime minister.
Unnecessary foreign visits by cabinet ministers or bureaucrats should be disallowed.
Corruption and other crimes can be brought down by awarding deterrent punishments to criminals. Islam proposes harsh punishments only to cast terror in the hearts of would-be criminals. Capital punishments awarded to thousands of people but stayed by the president must be carried out as soon as possible, without caring for the international reaction or condemnations. Thousands of condemned prisoners have been in jails for several years only because the president has stayed their executions.
Another important issue that Mr Sharif will have to face is that of cases pending against former president Pervez Musharraf.
All these cases are very important. But while taking them to their logical conclusion the aides and abettors of the former president should also not be spared. It would be unfair to single out the former president and let the others go scot-free. Such an approach would be against the norms of justice.
Working out of a strategy to deal with the situation after the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan by the end of the next year will also one of the important issues before the new government.
The policy should be decided by parliament in consultation with other relevant stakeholders.
And while taking steps to improve ties with India, the new prime minister should not forget the rights of the Kashmiri people and the sacrifices rendered by them.
Unless such steps are taken, little improvement in the situation can be expected.