The PML-N captured power at the 2013 polls. It won a large majority in the National Assembly. As a seasoned third-time Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif was expected to perform well.

Yes, he had to face formidable problems. The economy was on the verge of collapse, and law and order deteriorating by the day. Unchecked violence and disorder in Karachi and Balochistan had to be addressed. Two more daunting issues had to be faced with imagination and determination; the electricity shortages and the menace of terrorism.

To begin with, politically-wise moves were made in letting the Nationalist party in Balochistan and PTI in KPK, form governments. Expeditious steps were taken to bring about economic recovery and stabilize it; and also to start off a program to set up power plants to increase the supply of electricity and undertake large infrastructure projects.

The new regime, however, was found wanting in good governance. The common man was not provided relief to ease his misery. No wonder the recent opinion poll carried out by the SDPI and Herald, highlight the falling ratings of the incumbent PML-N government, reflecting a lowering of its popularity.

Why so?

For one, the Sharif brothers’ approach to governance is highly personalized. The policy making process is not broad-based and an institutionalized system for decision-making has not been developed. This accounts for the fact that there have been inordinate delays in making important appointments. It took more than 6 months to post an ambassador in the US. This single instance of procrastination speaks volumes for the cavalier manner in which important matters have been allowed to drift. Many other vital institutions remained headless or in the charge of ad-hoc appointees, for long times. Also, Nadra, Pemra and the Higher Education Commission fall in this category. The administration has also been facing considerable embarrassment because of courts quashing the Prime Minister’s orders regarding appointments of a number of senior officers. The money-guzzler state enterprises continue burdening the economy.

A forward looking administration takes a reasoned assessment of the conditions and circumstances and acts shrewdly to resolve challenges and difficulties. Take the case of unending load-shedding. The PML-N leaders had promised a quick solution of the power problem and the provision of speedy relief to the people. This promise has not been kept and the government is facing the music.

A sagacious government should have made it clear to the public that it would take a few years before promised relief was provided. This was not done. The opposition and the media capitalized on the plight of the country, and relished running down the government. Having been driven into a corner, the concerned minister had to apologize for failing to provide much needed relief. The government had taken commendable initiatives to set up new plants with Chinese help and yet, instead of earning credit, it is facing denunciation and protests.

Another case of mishandling a crucial matter is the way the government dealt with the task of holding talks with the TTP. For months, there was no move to go ahead and when the talks did start, they were not pursued with the requisite vigor and wisdom. The ceasefire announced by the Taliban was not availed and the opportunity was lost. The much needed initiative petered out. Instead, the brass tack went ahead and launched the military operation in North Waziristan. While the government has endorsed the operation, its failure to bring peace through dialogue has weakened its position. Presently, it is facing criticism in not efficiently discharging the responsibility of looking after internally displaced persons.

Again, the Musharraf trial under Article 6 of the Constitution contributed towards a straining of the civil-military relationship, further hit by the Hamid Mir episode wherein the government was seen tilting somewhat towards the GEO Group which had repeatedly televised Mir’s accusations against the DG ISI.

The most destabilizing threat to the PML-N regime has come from Imran Khan. Imran’s demand for recounting votes cast in four constituencies was not taken seriously enough by the government. The PML-N leadership failed to realize the need for diffusing the rising tide of the PTI’s demands by initiating a dialogue and demonstrating a readiness to do whatever was legally permissible. Of course it was for the Election Commission, the tribunals and the courts to deal with the PTI’s demands and the government was not directly involved. Despite this, it was politic to appear to be open to any constructive action to establish the party’s bona fides.

As a sagacious national leader, Nawaz failed to foresee the escalating anti-government thrust of the PTI. Imran Khan found a forceful cause for galvanizing the masses—if elections were found to be rigged, there could be no legitimate democratic government.  Imran’s failure to get a satisfactory response for more than a year and his spirited speeches at large PTI gatherings has catapulted him into a formidable force. His scheduled Azadi March and dharna in Islamabad has visibly shaken the PML-N administration.

It is PML-N’s bad luck, that Tahir-ul-Qadri has descended from the sky to lead a revolution. He has been strengthened by the bloody Model Town episode, and if Imran’s millions are joined by his large crowds in Islamabad, the PML-N government would be hard pressed to find a way to survive. Zardari too has jumped into the arena and has added to the gravity of the situation by issuing a statement that runs down Nawaz and justifies Imran’s stand. Earlier, Gillani referred to a safe-exit agreement for Musharraf and another PPP leader revealed that an unwritten clause of the NRO, backed by the US, contained a clause that there would be no martial law in Pakistan for 15 years. There is also speculation arising out of Zardari’s meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden in Washington. Not to be left behind, the media pundits have been abuzz with all sorts of rumours about the changes expected in Islamabad and the role of the Pakistan army.

It is most unfortunate, that the PML-N leadership’s lack of vision, sagacity and a faltering style of governance has landed them and the country in these dire straits.

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