It remains to be seen
Nawaz is going to be elected Leader of the House today and would subsequently take over as prime minister. The only question is whether he will opt to seek the confidence of the entire house? While support by the whole National Assembly is by no means binding, the PPP has set an example that is worth following. When Yousuf Raza Gilani was elected unopposed, this indicated that all the parliamentary parties considered him a leader with a capacity and temperament of taking everyone along in spite of differences in political orientation. This stood him in good stead. Despite Gilani’s multifarious flaws he turned out to be an elected PM with the longest tenure while under him the PPP led administration retrieved the pledge of taking the opposition on board on key national issues. This enabled the administration to enact major constitutional amendments and enforce a consensus NFC award.
While the PML-N enjoys a solid majority in the house its position in the Senate is vulnerable. The party has no option other than building bridges with other parties to get crucial laws passed or go for more constitutional amendments that might be needed to strengthen democracy and shore and buttress the institutions. It has therefore to improve relationships with parties that are very different from it and for whom it might otherwise have little liking. For this the party leadership has to overcome its dislikes, show flexibility and convince its erstwhile critics that it would go for consensus building, which is the essence of democracy, instead of taking recourse to steamrolling the opponents. The task shouldn’t be all that difficult provided humility replaces hauteur. The MQM has already reassured the PML-N that it would support Nawaz Sharif. The PPP had withdrawn its candidates for the posts of the speaker and deputy speaker as a display of goodwill. The PPP and PTI however have decided to put up candidates to oppose Nawaz Sharif. Despite the firmness shown by Amin Fahim in contesting the election, it should not be impossible to persuade the party to withdraw its candidate in favour of the PML-N chief. Zardari’s recent interview in fact contains a hint that supports the view. Again, both the PTI and PML-N are keen to hold talks with the extremists and militants to bring peace and ensure security. Khyber Pukhtunkhwa chief minister has already indicated that his government has no intention to confront the federal government.
What is needed is to convince the opponents that the new government is earnestly keen to achieve goals that almost all parties share: end of power shortages, resuscitating economy, bringing peace and stability. For this there is a need for a little personal effort on the part of Nawaz Sharif to seek unanimous vote. But will he stoop to conquer? It remains to be seen.
With the Taliban’s reign of terror continuing, will the PTI change drift?
The hope that a new terror-free dawn shall arise in Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP) after the formation of the new provincial government has been extinguished by one gunshot. Farid Khan, an MPA for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in Hangu, was gunned down on Monday. While a protest rally was taken out and a strike called in the Hangu area for the popular candidate, the question being asked is what does it mean for the policies that the new PTI-led coalition will pursue? The PTI has been driving home the agenda that peace talks and an end to the drone strikes are the path to restoring peace in the beleaguered province. The party, as a matter of policy, does not condemn the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and did not come to the verbal support of the Awami National Party (ANP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), when the three were targeted during the election campaign.
Early indications are that the tide has turned. A TTP commander, Mufti Hamid, was arrested in a joint operation for alleged involvement in the killing of Farid Khan. Farid belonged to a poor family in the Rabiakhel tribe in the Orakzai Agency and was fielded as a consensus candidate by 29 villages. Whatever the circumstances of his killing, that the TTP is continuing to target the political leadership in KP, like they did with the ANP, is not a good sign for those championing the agenda of peace without taking into count all the considerations. The PTI as a political party has perhaps offered the most mainstream front for the Taliban to be able to enter politics proper. However, Farid’s killing suggests the TTP is out with a more dangerous agenda and shall continue to target the PTI-led coalition.
If so, the leadership of both the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will be forced to reconsider their position on talks and drones soon enough. While a complete investigation of the killing must be awaited, the Taliban threat to the KP is still quite significant. That an MPA belonging to a party committed to Islam, peace talks and ending drone strikes can be targeted by the militants should be a pointer towards re-thinking the strategy of how to deal with the Taliban. Terrorists tend to remain terrorists; and the more pliant the civilian government, the more easy they find picking out targets. The question for Imran Khan now is: if any more PTI workers are targeted in the KP, will he and his party change its strategy on how to deal with the TTP? Surely, the sad murder of Farid Khan is an eye-opener for many.
Breath of fresh air from Balochistan
The selection of Dr Abdul Malik Baloch as Chief Minister of Balochistan augurs well for the province. It is for the first time that a province long mismanaged by tribal chiefs with little sense of human values is going to be led by a professional and a middle class politician well-versed in parliamentary politics. Dr Malik’s National Party, which is based mainly in the non-tribal Mekran Division, is categorised as a Baloch nationalist party with a progressive outlook and preference for mainstream politics. Along with other Baloch nationalist organizations, the NP had also boycotted the 2008 elections as these were held under a military ruler.
Dr Malik is required to perform a historic but highly testing task. To begin with he has to ensure the rule of law in the province. For over a decade Balochistan has passed through a painful nightmare. There have been unending reports of kidnappings of political activists and the subsequent dumping of their dead bodies. According to Akhtar Mengal 279 people have gone missing, over 100 fell to target killings and 50 bodies dumped during the two months of the caretaker government’s tenure alone. Dr Malik is not only expected to put an end to disappearances but also to rehabilitate thousands of Marri and Bugti tribesmen who have been displaced by military operations or FC actions in Kohlu and Dera Bugti. Another arduous task before him is to negotiate with the misled Baloch leaders who have taken up arms against the state. As he heads a progressive party which aims at improving the lot of the common man, many expect him to remove the economic suffering of the people. To top it all as CM of the province enjoying good relations with the PkMAP, he has to work for the welfare of the Pushtuns too besides other smaller communities living in the province. Dr Malik has promised to practice good governance. To begin with he wants to have a small cabinet and wants to show zero tolerance for corruption.
Balochistan has been subjected to neglect and misrule for decades. The long suffering the people of the province have gone through cannot be alleviated by the provincial government alone. The military establishment has to realise that the new government provides the best, if not the last, chance of national reconciliation and therefore needs to be extended full cooperation. The federal government also has to be steadfast in its support to the new administration in Quetta.
While one appreciates Nawaz Sharif’s preference for a clean middle class Baloch politician over the chief of his own PML-N, one had expected a similar approach from him in apportioning the key government and parliamentary offices in Islamabad. It is saddening to find most of the key posts going to male legislators from Punjab and that too mostly from Lahore.
President will not seek reelection but fails to recognise problems in tenure
“I will not seek reelection,” President Asif Ali Zardari told media on Sunday. In his first interview after the elections, Zardari appeared ever the statesman, laying down his position, but not asserting much. With the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) no longer in the majority in the National Assembly (NA), Zardari admits that he has lost his mandate to be president of Pakistan. The PPP and Zardari himself reminded us at numerous times that he was the only president in Pakistan’s history to relinquish his powers through the 18th amendment. The last step of his term is fast approaching: he shall now vacate the seat of President. This resolves a number of issues for the new Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, who shall have to appoint its own president soon enough.
For those looking for some more candidness for the now outgoing president, there was none forthcoming. Surely the president would say something for why the PPP lost? But the ever-elusive Zardari said nothing. Neither he nor the PPP took any responsibility for the crises that have beset Pakistan in its term of government. The lack of explanations is strange though. When asked about the Karachi violence, Zardari pointed to a “foreign hand”, forgetting that the three-ruling parties blamed each other during the continuing spate of violence. When asked about Balochistan, Zardari blamed the Baloch, forgetting that it was his PPP that stuck the agreement to appoint Aslam Raisani as chief minister and appointing all Balochistan MPAs to the cabinet. The matter appears to be a case of selective memory from the president, who maintained that he had been a victim in the NAB witch hunt which was continued by the Supreme Court to include four years of his presidential term.
On his future plans, Zardari said he would be ready to take a leadership role if the PPP offered him such and would work to re-organise it. He maintained that the reconciliation mantra that he used during the five-year PPP term would continue with the PML-N. With the PPP now fully handed over to Bilawal Bhuto Zardari after Zardari dissociated himself from the party in line with a high court verdict earlier this year, Zardari’s own future is an open question. Zardari’s wish that the PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif be elected as consensus prime minister does not appear like being fulfilled. Zardari is now the former head of the leading opposition party, where he of course still carries a certain clout. His future probably lies with the party, but if he takes too dominant a role in the PPP, it may hamper the future of the PPP as envisioned by Bilawal. Zardari faces a difficult choice for what to do after his term ends. Some clues shall be forthcoming soon.
Taking stock of the privitisation option
Rupees 500 billion is the amount dangling as a noose around the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in waiting. With the PML-N chiefs Nawaz and Shahbaz aware that their ability to play politics around the power crisis was the reason for dislodging the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from power, the Sharifs know that their ability to deliver an answer to the power crisis will define their term. With Khawaja Asif appointed the new Water and Power Minister, the PML-N’s much contested plan of action is now in action. Plan A appears to be raising roughly Rs 500 billion in the short run. The plan is to raise as much money as possible from banks and print the rest. The money is thought to be enough to eliminate circular debt – and getting existing power plants to operate full-steam ahead. Plan A appears to be a stop-gap solution before moving on to a far-reaching transformation of the power sector which, as per PML-N’s plan of action, seems to be complete privitisation of the sector. Some industry insiders claim that government-owned power plants operate at efficiency levels of less than 10 percent, meaning than more than 90 percent of fuel burned is wasted. With Khwaja Asif declaring, “You’ll see advertisements for positions of chief executive for PEPCO, all the distribution companies, and for NTDC in the first few days of the new government,” the power sector is all set for the Sharifs completing the agenda they were set to implement in the 1990s. The way the PML-N shall go about this is to reduce the government’s share in state-owned energy companies to around 51 percent to raise around Rs 485 billion, an amount almost equal to the circular debt in the system. However, the move appears a toning down of what its manifesto promises: complete privitisation. The move in itself, while set to be unpopular amongst power sector workers and left wing political parties, is set to go unopposed through the National Assembly, with the biggest two opposition groups, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), more or less committed to the same agenda. The trouble is that the word is still out on the effects of the PML-N’s last privitisation bout, selling three public sector banks. While the banks have been fast to adopt new technologies, the material performance has not improved much. The fear is that the privitisation of the power sector, if it fails, would leave it at the point of no return. Both PML-N plans, printing money in the short-term, and selling power companies in the long-term, are contested to say the least. But with the unpopularity of the PPP’s crony-run attempt to save the power sector still in the memory, on ground opposition to the PML-N’s plan will be little.
Delay in his announcement makes no sense
As intricate as the business of politics may be, important it is nonetheless. That means it has to be carried on despite setbacks or roadblocks. Something similar happened when the Speaker of the outgoing National Assembly gave an advice of the sort to her successor the other day, stressing upon him or her to appoint a new Leader of the Opposition without delay. This delay is only holding up a praiseworthy transition from being truly completed.
As mundane as it sounds, this appointment is shaping up to be quite difficult, mainly because even though PPP has most seats in Opposition, their majority can be challenged easily if other parties combine their numbers – PPP has 40 seats, PTI 33 and MQM 23. Jamat-i-Islami with five seats, PML-Q with two seats and Awami Muslim League with one seat are most likely to support PTI for the coveted slot. This makes both PPP and PTI neck to neck and gives leverage to MQM which, even after deciding to sit on the opposition benches this time around, is in a position to dictate what it wants. The leader of the opposition will surely be someone that the MQM endorses but it is going to be a hard sell for others to get MQM in their corner, at least not until it wants to do so or it gets what it wants and decides to support one party or the other. The MQM might, however, decide to support PPP if it can make it give them something in return in the provincial government setup. It is also more likely considering there is bad blood between MQM and PTI after Imran Khan publicly accused MQM of murdering his party’s senior vice president in Karachi a day before re-polling in some polling stations in NA-250, a seat the PTI eventually won.
Though former Speaker’s advice can be taken on the face of it, it would be better to understand the reasons why it should be followed. Firstly, it is important for the continuation of democratic and political setup. Secondly, our constitution kind of makes it must to have this position filled by making it compulsory to include his, the Leader of Opposition’s, input in many of the decisions of national importance. Thirdly, he is also the one who would nominate candidates to the committee on superior judiciary’s appointments. Other than that, it is a democratic norm to have a leader of the opposition before the parliament can get to its usual business of legislation.
Dr Fehmida Mirza’s words need to be acted upon and instead of getting into political machinations, all opposition parties should unite and announce the new opposition leader as soon as possible, proving that for once they can truly put their interests aside.
Found wanting on many counts
The ECP bureaucracy has committed mistake after mistake, with the result that at least nine PML-N members of the National Assembly will not be able to cast their votes in elections to the offices of prime minister, speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly. The mistakes were committed during the revision in the schedule to fill the vacant reserved seats in the house from Punjab. Since the priority list provided by the PML-N exhausted after the notification, as it contained only 23 names, a fresh schedule inviting nominations for rest of the seats was issued the same day. But the nominations were invited from the PML-N only for eight instead of nine seats. Another mistake was that no time was provided for deciding appeals against the acceptance or rejection of nomination papers in the schedule.
What about tribunals? Again, thanks to the incompetence shown by the ECP bureaucracy the election tribunals are not in place yet, leading to widespread complaints. Under the law, the tribunals can be approached within 45 days after the results are notified. Since the results of the May 11 elections were notified on May 22, the complainants have already lost ten days on account of ECP’s negligence. With the ECP comprising retired judges, was there none to tell its bureaucracy that it was not permissible to announce the election tribunals without prior consultation with the CJ’s of the four High Courts? Why can’t the ECP bureaucracy take decisions on time? Efficient working required the fixing of the number of tribunals before the elections. The ECP had earlier announced the formation of 14 tribunals. We are now being told that a decision has been taken to almost double that number. As this has financial implications, appointments are likely to be further delayed making the already distraught litigants further desperate. Obviously proper attention was not given to the issue well before the elections.
One expected the ECP to be aware of the security situation in Balochistan, all the more so when attacks had been launched on its own offices in the province before the polling. One also expected that it would make foolproof arrangements for the counting of the votes and timely announcement of results in sensitive constituencies. The ECP however failed to come up to the expectations. It is claimed by the BNP-M that the election results were delayed by five to seven days in all constituencies where BNP-M candidates had bright chances of winning. “In those five to seven days, undemocratic forces changed the people’s mandate and caused our candidates’ defeat”. Announcement of BNP-M chief Akhtar Mengal’s win was delayed by 17 days! This imposed unmerited political losses on the BNP-M as its result was announced a day after the ECP allocated the reserved seats to the winning parties. The party thus lost a reserved seat that it could get in the Balochistan Assembly.
Nawaz Sharif can turn around the situation in Balochistan
Post election politics is in full swing. Judging their strength, political parties are busy either currying favours or strong-arming their possible coalition partners. This is all the more so in Balochistan where probable coalition partners are in a deadlock as to who will become the next CM of the province. With the new legislature taking oath yesterday, a lack of consensus on appointing a CM bodes well neither for the coalition partners nor democracy in the province that has never actually tasted its fruits.
The frontrunners for the coveted seat include one sardar, Sanaullah Zehri, also the provincial president PML-N, and National Party chief Dr Abdul Malik Baloch who has the support of PkMAP as well. What is vexing the observers is that prime minister-designate and party chief of PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, appears to be favouring the sardar, a breed that is attributed with most of the ills in the province while not being pleased at ‘irrational demands’ of NP and PkMAP leaders. One could argue that donning the avatar of country’s chief executive officer for the third time should have made the N League supremo more in sync with the ground realities in the province, but in all likelihood if there ever was any lesson that he learnt, it apparently does not involve sharing power. Sanaullah Zehri has feudal sardar background, with links with the agencies that have been alleged, and believed by many, of being involved in forced disappearances and killings of the Baloch youth. Dr Malik, on the other hand, is a man well educated and comes from a middle class background, thus is supposed to be more entrenched in the poor, desperate and deprived people’s lives.
A sardar’s appointment would only give credence to what Nawaz Sharif has always been alleged of: an exclusivist. Instead of taking a stand for the wretched Baloch people, he is poised to announce a CM who despite being in the last government did nothing to help improve the situation of his home province, as the establishment continued to call shots over there through their proxies in the form of sardars. A province already so alienated cannot afford to go through another government that stands on the outside while the people wrestle with the forces of violence and injustice on a daily basis. However, as with third time being a charm, Nawaz Sharif has a chance to turn things around there. Dr Abdul Malik is someone whose profile sits well with the people of the province and who the Baloch resistance youth would easily agree to sit down with for peace talks but political exigencies, if the PML-N surrenders before them, might actually ruin this chance. Playing the right card is important.
Amid raised hopes of better delivery
The National Assembly meets today for the administration of oath to its newly elected members. After the speaker and deputy speaker are elected on June 3, the next step would be to elect the new prime minister on June 5. After that everything is all set to go. Despite a number of greenhorns this time round, the new Assembly is by no means short of seasoned parliamentarians. The 18th amendment has taken away crucial powers from the president, investing these with the prime minister who leads the National assembly. This has raised hopes that the National Assembly would take effective measures to end power shortages, resuscitate the economy and resolve the issue of militancy. Further, that it would strengthen institutions, encourage good governance and ensure the rule of law.
In five years time Pakistan has come a long way from the 2002 Assembly which enjoyed little power or prestige while the MNAs gave scant importance to the sittings of the house. Many came to Islamabad during the assembly sessions only to get things done for themselves or their constituencies through calls on those who mattered. The lack of interest in the proceedings of a powerless house led to frequent break downs of the quorum. Instead of taking the opposition on board the ruling PML-Q, widely known as the King’s party, preferred to steamroll it. This led to too many protests, walk outs, and rowdy scenes in the house. Taking note of the disrespectful behaviour of the MNAs, Musharraf did not come to the joint session of the Parliament to deliver the mandatory yearly address except on one occasion.
The 2008 Assembly was many steps ahead. Thanks to the policy of reconciliation, Gilani was elected leader of the house unanimously and the president addressed it every year. Among the major achievements of the PPP-led National Assembly were constitutional amendments that expanded provincial autonomy, institutionalized the procedure of the appointment of superior judiciary and put together a consensus NFC Award. The house also achieved another historic first: electing its first woman Speaker. There were fewer protests and walkouts and lesser complaints of lack of quorum. The government, however, was a hostage to its alliances which led to the formation of an extra large cabinet and the subsequent bad governance. Many cabinet ministers faced charges of corruption during the PPP’s tenure.
The PML-N contrarily enjoys simple majority in the present house. However with the PTI putting up its own candidate for the office of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif is not likely to get a unanimous endorsement. With a formidable strength of 186 members in a House of 338, the PML-N is in a position to further strengthen and expand democratic traditions. For this it will need the cooperation of the opposition. But to encourage the opposition to act responsibly, the government has to take it on board on major issues.
Challenges must be tackled together in militancy-hit province
The handover has been completed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) after Pervez Khatak of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was elected chief minister of the province on Friday. The province is the one that faces the greatest problems, and perhaps requires the most concentrated effort from both the central and provincial government. With expectations high that the PTI shall bring ‘something different’ to the people of the province, the hope is that an end can be put to what has been about 12 years of suffering for them. Threatened by the Taliban, displaced by military operations, the resilience of the people of KP is a story that is often told to foreign observers – but when it has come to genuine concern and effort from the Pakistani government, there has been little deliverance.
“The government is losing its writ over the surroundings of Peshawar,” were the warning words issued by the new speaker of the KP assembly. These should come as a reality check for both the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), with both looking to broker a way out of the war on terror. Both parties are at times accused of being blind to the Taliban threat. Now that both are holding the reins of power, we will see what mettle the two parties are made off when confronted with the challenge of the Taliban on the ground. The need will be for both parties to forget the blame game and look towards formulating a joint strategy.
As it stands, it is premier-in-waiting Nawaz Sharif that is playing the realist card. After the drone attack which claimed the TTP second in command, Sharif has said, he would like to work with the United States to combat terrorism. On the other side, the PTI chief Imran Khan knows no such diplomacy. Despite the TTP accepting that one of its chieftains had been killed, Khan’s anti-drone rhetoric has not wavered, to the extent that some observers wonder if the PTI chief has a backup plan if the Taliban refuse to talk. Khan’s demand that Sharif’s first decision once he assumes the seat of prime minister should be to decide to “stop or shoot down drones” reeks of political immaturity. While drones are a serious issue, they are not the top of the priority list. The new governments at the centre and KP should know better than to shoot themselves in the foot by antagonizing the US without any attempt at dialogue, and be left facing a rejuvenated Taliban without any international support. The new KP chief minister will do well to know that sloganeering is not the way the next KP government is to fulfill its mandate. The PTI and PML-N will need to sit down to work out a joint strategy to combat terror – but before that the PTI chief will need to show more maturity and appreciate the problem on the ground.
The Taliban cannot be allowed to attack Afghanistan either
New drone paradigm announced, another drone strike. Despite the United States President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry announcing a “tighter, more efficient” drone programme last week, another drone has hit North Waziristan. Unconfirmed reports claim that the second-in-command of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Waliur Rehman and three other Taliban militants died in the attack. From the outset it does not appear a breach of the new drone plan announced by US authorities, which claimed to “only target those members of Al-Qaeda that pose an immediate risk to the US,” but questions can still be asked. With both Kerry and Pakistani authorities verbally committed to bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, how would the process go ahead with attacks on the Taliban leadership ongoing? The announcement by the TTP of suspension of the proposed talks after Rehman’s killing creates problems for the incumbent governments in both Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Islamabad; both committed to the talks paradigm and opposed to the drone programme.
The trouble for the incumbent Pakistani government is that the North Waziristan region still remains out of its grip. The fact that wanted militants such as Waliur Rehman were able to use safe houses in North Waziristan opens the area to more strikes. Rehman, if it may be recalled, was wanted in connection with attacks on US and NATO personnel across the Afghan border and an attack on seven US counter-terrorism agents and security contractors in Khost on December 30, 2009. Since then a $5 million bounty had been put on his head by the US government. Surely it is not good for Pakistan’s image and negotiating position that wanted militants are found on its territory. While the Foreign Office has again cried foul and pointed to the hatred the drones create and that they lie in breach of international law, the rhetoric from the FO reads hollow if Pakistan is unable to ensure its territory does not house those engaged in attacks across the border.
On ground, the Pakistani army is in the midst of another offensive in the Kurram Valley, where at least 100 unnamed militants have been reported to have been killed and several insurgent hideouts destroyed in the last three weeks. With the army keeping the TTP under pressure on one side, it will allow the next government to begin negotiations with the Taliban from a position of strength. But, as Wednesday’s drone strike has shown, Pakistani negotiators will have to ensure that the TTP agrees not to attack both targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is a difficult negotiating position to take and not all the security apparatus is expected to be on board with it. With the drone threat set to continue, the claims of some Pakistani politicians that they would shoot down drones shall be tested if such an agreement is not found – and quick. They only way to stop drones is for the Pakistani government to establish its complete writ in the tribal areas – and this is not an easy task.
Job well done, gentlemen!
The posts of prime minister and chief ministers were handed over to four former judges and one journalist for a critical period of two months. The two-month honey moon period for the political parties has now come to a close. Gladly most would say as the caretakers were getting a little controversial by the day with their inability to deal with the energy crisis, the presentation of mini-budgets and some controversial transfers. Nonetheless caretaker Prime Minister Khoso is due a welcome good-bye. For the most part, the caretakers stuck to their tasks, and have overseen the first successful democratic transition in the country.
With members of the Sindh and Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP) assemblies sworn in and respective speakers and deputy speakers elected, Balochistan, Punjab and the National Assembly are set to follow suit soon enough. Political parties are no longer negotiating to put their man at the helm; with the position clearest in KP, Sindh, Punjab and the National Assembly as to who will take the post of chief minister. The only questions remaining are over Balochistan, where the National Party’s Dr Malik may be fielded as an alternate candidate. Mostly however we are set to be greeted with familiar faces at the helm: Nawaz Sharif as third-time prime minister, Shahbaz Sharif as fourth-time chief minister Punjab, Qaim Ali Shah as third-time chief minister Sindh. But each appears to be coming with a battle-mindset as the two-party hegemony has been broken with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) having much to prove at the helm in KP.
It is hoped that the competition amongst provinces will be healthy and be mutually conducive. The National Assembly is set to induct its new members on June 1; and appears all set to elect Nawaz Sharif as prime minister, with a significant majority. Despite the fears of election violence, the caretaker set up has managed to tow the election period well, with no major controversies erupting. History should judge the current caretakers as the least controversial and thus the best to have been brought in to steady the realm in democratic transitions. Each caretaker cabinet is receiving its farewells – with much praise from all political parties. Caretaker prime minister Khoso has left the Prime Minister House and shifted to the Balochistan House. The process of peaceful transfer of power is almost complete. The exercise has followed the set rules and is yet another victory for electoral democracy in the country. All we can say is: job well done, gentlemen! Job well done.
Antipathy would harm both
While an element of tension has rarely been absent in Pak-US relations, bitterness climaxed as a result of incidents in 2011 and the subsequent reactions from Pakistan. It started with Raymond Davis shooting two Pakistanis in February that year. This was followed by the killing of OBL inside Pakistan by the US Special Forces. In November 2011 NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. While the first incident gave birth to complaints about the flagrant violation of Pakistan’s laws by the CIA, the second was seen as an outright violation of the country’s sovereignty. The third incident led to widespread resentment both among the common people and the military. In retaliation Pakistan decided to block the NATO traffic. It took nearly a year to bring a modicum of normalcy in relations between the two countries. Meanwhile the drone attacks continued to be a perennial source of complaints for the civil society, the government and opposition.
Come May 11 and the two parties that bagged the highest and second highest number of votes were those not willing to own the war on terror which they rejected as Washington’s war. Both favoured talks with the Pakistani Taliban and were opposed to the drone strikes. While Obama’s new policy regarding drone attacks inspired hopes in some that in the days to come the attacks would peter off. The expectations were belied on Tuesday when another strike killed four and injured as many.
Neither Pakistan nor the US can afford to escalate the existing tensions. The interests of the two countries demand promotion of friendly relations. An end to the power shortages and a resuscitation of the economy being among the top priorities of the PML-N government, it needs whatever technical or financial assistance it can garner from friendly countries, the US being high on the list. The Pakistani exporters have long aspired to enter the US and the EU markets, absence of goodwill however has tended to act as a non-tariff barrier. Pakistan also needs the US help in dealing with the IFIs. Its military requires modern arms and a regular supply of spare parts for US weapons. The US needs the region to be free of terrorists with international reach. This would be hard to ensure unless Washington and Islamabad are on the same page. The US has seen the consequences of leaving Pakistan holding the bag in 1989. Now that Pakistan also has an arsenal of 100 plus nuclear weapons, the prospects of abandoning it should all the more be worrisome. One hopes that the new government in Pakistan would realize the importance of ties with the US. Equally important is for Washington not to embarrass the PML-N administration with drone strikes or act with its characteristic hubris. Pakistan and the US both stand to benefit from friendly ties while antipathy would harm both.
Nawaz Sharif outlines economic recovery, foreign relations as priorities
Once upon a time, a decade and a half ago to this day, premier-in-waiting Nawaz Sharif was reported to have pressed the buttons of Pakistan’s first nuclear tests at Chaghai. Since then the matter has become one of great pomp and show, celebrated in the form of the Youm-e-Takbir. This Youm-e-Takbir, Sharif dropped one bomb and promised to drop another. Sharif’s admission that there is no ‘quick fix’ to the electricity crisis may have disappointed many, but it is only realistic. His ability to deliver on the electricity front shall be tested over the electricity situation a year from now, but one wonders how his promised ‘economic bomb’ can be delivered without resolving the ‘electricity bombshell’? His outlined three-point agenda: the economy, load-shedding and improving relations with India is, however, a welcome one.
“It’s a tragedy that a country with atomic weapons is deprived of electricity and has no electricity for even 20 hours a day. How can a country develop in such a situation?” is the question Nawaz Sharif asked at a ceremony held to celebrate the 1998 nuclear tests. Surely, the tests themselves show how the priorities of his previous governments have been different from delivering necessary services to people. Asking for ‘patience’, Sharif has however promised to improve the situation “within days, not months or years.” Ensuring that a basic load-shedding schedule is followed should be the first step towards economic recovery. The PML-N chief outlined that his priority was to open up the economy for overseas Pakistanis and foreign investors, whom would be allowed ‘to repatriate profits’. This does not mark a change from either the previous government’s paradigm nor does it reflect a change from the policy during the N-leagues short-lived 1997 tenure. Arguably, the power sector is beset with more structural problems, than a lack of generation capacity.
Nonetheless, Sharif appears to exude the cautioned confidence required in the next premier. Sharif spoke of how an economic recovery programme had been chalked out with the Chinese premier during his recent visit. With Sharif yet to take office, he already appears like a man on a mission. The braver move appears to be Sharif’s decision not to appoint defence and foreign ministers in the cabinet. The move suggests Nawaz wants to “get to grips with the government’s relationship with the army.” The consequences of it shall be discovered but they do show a supremely confident Sharif, willing to assert himself on both the economy and foreign relations. Sharif appears like a man conscious of the problems faced by people, with an idea of what the solutions are, but not making promises beyond the attainable. The fact that his government has a clear mandate means Sharif could implement his programme. Nonetheless, too much arrogance will not do him well. The entire National Assembly and the people will need to be taken in confidence as he moves.
So far, so good
The chess board has been laid out for the parliamentary games that will hopefully continue uninterrupted for the next five years. The players were selected in the first elections in the country’s history held under an independent and powerful Election Commission and a consensus caretaker set up. After registering complaints about perceived irregularities all major parties have accepted the outcome of the polls. The handover of power from one elected government to another will take placeon June 5 when Nawaz Sharif will be elected prime minister by the National Assembly. He will subsequently announce his cabinet.
So far everything has come along according to a set procedure, courtesy the institutional arrangements introduced by the last parliament through consensus among all parliamentary groups. As the new National Assembly commences work there is need to take into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the treasury and the opposition as these would determine how the game is to be played out. The PML-N which originally won 126 seats enjoys simple majority with 144 members after 18 more members having joined it. After 1997, the party has got a big mandate for the second time. The PML-N leadership would hopefully control some of the impulses that harmed both the party and the democratic process during its last tenure. Despite its strength in the Lower House the incoming government is however vulnerable in the Senate. This will require it to seek the cooperation of the opposition to pass crucial legislation. Thus it would not be in a position to have its way on all issues.
The opposition in the National Assembly is divided. While it was possible for the parties sitting in the opposition to maintain hostile postures or refuse to have working relations with one another during the polls , this may not be possible any more. To play an effective role, the opposition parties have to interact normally amongst themselves. While the PTI is a newcomer in the National Assembly as a party, some of its representatives happen to be seasoned parliamentarians. One expects therefore that the opposition would keep the government on its toes. What the opposition needs to shun is taking the issues out into the streets. Protests are no doubt a part of the democratic culture but they fall in the main into the realm of civil society. These are justified on the part of the parliamentary opposition only if the government steamrolls it or continues to remain unresponsive to important national issues despite its protests. Nawaz Sharif has called on the opposition to shun the practice of removing the government through public agitation. The government has to listen to the opposition’s point of view to discourage the practice.