PML-N has scored a convincing victory in the general elections, giving it a clear mandate to form the governments at the centre and Punjab. The elections have heralded the first ever smooth transition from one elected government to another one in the country, thus, strengthening the democratic process and improving Pakistan’s image abroad. The humiliating defeat suffered by the Pakistan People’s Party in the polls at the centre and most of the provinces has conveyed an unmistakable message that the people will not tolerate corruption and gross mismanagement and inefficiency on the part of their rulers. The results have also buried once for all the myth that our people lack the wisdom to choose their leaders through fair and free elections, which our establishment consisting of army generals and senior civilian bureaucrats had been propagating in the past.

The results of the elections hold out the promise of a change for the better for the country as a whole and for its various provinces. The clear mandate that the people have given to PML-N at the centre should enable it under Nawaz Sharif’s leadership to form a strong federal government capable of delivering on its promises and overcoming the serious challenges confronting the nation. At the same time, the possibility of the formation of governments headed by different parties in the provinces would encourage competition among them in strengthening law and order, accelerating economic progress and enhancing the welfare of the people.

The federal government led by Nawaz Sharif would be faced with serious challenges, both internal and external. On the internal front, Nawaz Sharif would have to tackle the problems of terrorism and religious extremism, breakdown of law and order, the economic meltdown, the energy crisis and the insurgency in Balochistan.

Religious extremism and terrorism are tearing apart the very social fabric of our country besides causing incalculable damage to our economy. The establishment of the rule of law is an indispensable condition for internal peace and harmony as well as for economic progress. Simultaneously the government must engage the extremist groups including the Taliban in a dialogue with a view to reaching an understanding with them within the framework of Pakistan’s constitution and bringing them within the mainstream of Pakistan’s politics. The Taliban and other extremist groups must put an end to the use of violence for pursuing their political goals.

At the same time, the state must take all necessary steps to remove the legitimate grievances of the Taliban and other extremist groups now engaged in militant activities. The state should not take military operations against them in pursuit of the goals and objectives of external powers. We cannot sacrifice our internal peace and security just for pleasing other countries. It is also essential that the policy against terrorism and religious extremism is decided through consultations and an agreement among all the stakeholders, both from the civilian and the military arms of the government.

Thanks to the corruption and gross incompetence of the outgoing PPP-led federal government, Pakistan’s economic problems have assumed massive proportions. They include the virtual stagnation of the economy, widespread poverty, high rates of inflation and unemployment, the energy crisis, the dismal state of social indicators, and unsustainably high levels of budgetary and external account deficits. The PML-N government would need Herculean efforts and the pooling of the thinking of the best economic experts in the country to overcome these problems. Among other things, we would have to raise our national saving and investment rates to accelerate economic growth, increase the tax-to-GDP ratio, change our national priorities in favour of education, health and development of physical infrastructure, and adopt policies of austerity and self-reliance if we wish to put our nation on the road to economic development and prosperity. The pursuit of economic development must become the supreme national goal.

The insurgency in Balochistan is the result of the continued neglect of the legitimate political and economic demands of the people of the province over several decades. Again, instead of resort to the use of force, the federal government must engage the militants and other alienated groups in the province in a dialogue to remove their legitimate grievances and persuade them to lay down their arms.

Foreign policy is the reflection and the projection abroad of a state’s internal policies. Our need for internal peace and economic progress requires peaceful relations with foreign countries, particularly with our immediate neighbours. Thus, peace and stability in Afghanistan and peaceful relations with India are inescapable conditions for our domestic peace and economic progress. 

The essential elements of our Afghan policy should be support for national reconciliation and the establishment of a broad-based government in Afghanistan, opening up lines of communication with the former members of the Northern Alliance besides the Afghan Taliban, abstinence from interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, and coordination with Iran in the interest of durable peace in Afghanistan. As for India, we should strengthen the peace process between the two countries while trying to resolve our outstanding disputes wherever possible. The promotion of bilateral trade and economic cooperation with India on a level playing field would be in the mutual interest of the two countries.

Our regional policies must be designed in the context of the shift of the centre of gravity of the world from the Atlantic region to the Asia-Pacific region primarily because of China’s phenomenal economic growth. We should also take note of the sustained efforts by the US to contain China, our vitally important strategic partner, through a string of alliances around it and Washington’s efforts to build up India for the same purpose. The strengthening of our friendly relations with China, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia should be the cardinal features of our foreign policy. While maintaining friendly relations with the US, we should also build up bridges of understanding with Russia.

The gravity of our internal and external problems demands that Nawaz Sharif should adopt a consensual approach in dealing with them by taking along the various institutions of state and other stakeholders. He would also be well advised to make use of the best expertise available in the country in overcoming the challenges confronting us instead of collecting yes-men around him. He will pass the first test awaiting him if he allows PTI to form the government in KPK. The quality of his advisers would show whether he has learnt from his past mistakes.

The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.