The emerging goalpost | Pakistan Today

The emerging goalpost

In the next 100 days, where we are headed shall be evident

The new government of Nawaz Sharif, creating history by being prime minister for the third time, has finally been sworn in. As has the first twenty-five member cabinet. The stage thus being set for delivery of the numerous promises made, some understandably just rhetoric therefore undoable, and establishing modalities to make the right beginning.

Nawaz’s cabinet has no surprises. It is mainly the inner core that has sat before him each day for the last five years on gilded furniture in the ample salons of the Raiwind residence. Unlike other parliamentary dispensations, Pakistan does not have a shadow cabinet and therefore no pre-disclosed policy. We shall discover anew apart from the tidbits collected and past history. The prime minister has stuck to his guns, by and large selecting a clean team barring perhaps shadows lurking over a couple. Time will tell.

The speech in parliament, post election as leader of the house, set forth the major priorities and sought to seek consensus on national issues. The onus having a simple majority is on the ruling party to strive for adequate representation to the provinces where other parties head governments. The formation of the NEC and its first intended session on Monday is the first step in this direction. With the budget this week quick decisions are required especially the PSDP – which figures strongly on the agenda.

No doubt the economy must be on the top slot of challenges facing the government. There are no quick fixes and the new finance minister will embark on the same road as those preceding him. Historically there is far too much government in Pakistan and non-development expenditure is colossal. The political configuration demands this and unless sacrifices begin at home it is unlikely that others will follow. The recent constitutional amendment does bring restrictions on numbers but there are ways to easily overcome this.

Perhaps the time is ripe to follow the norms and make the sacrifices as the new finance minister suggests. This may in the short term alienate support even from within government but is essential for the nation in the longer term. Ishaq Dar talked of the need for investment and revenue mobilization and the alarming figures of reserves and circular debt. The easiest way out is for government to ensure that big business pays its due taxes and does not hide behind accelerated depreciation and business “losses”. This would be step one in revenue growth to be followed by the seamless integration of the citizen into the tax net, relieving the burden on the salaried class. NADRA has a very developed database, one of the successes of the PPP government, and provides the basis for a creative integration.

It also needs to ensure that power in country is not subsidized and that industry and the privileged pay their actual power bills. Pakistanis want both, not to pay their bills and also to get power at subsidized prices. Circular debt can only be addressed if the energy sector is run on purely commercial terms. The fallacy that there isn’t sufficient installed capacity needs to be corrected. But yes, operational capacity due to large-scale mismanagement is below the required quantum. Investment is required in plant and machinery, in terms of balancing and modernization but more importantly in proper maintenance and optimum performance in the generation and transmission. The PM’s decision for conversion to coal is good but it carries a longer gestation period due to technical and logistic issues. Human resource is perhaps the single most important factor in recovery and restoration of the energy sector. The appointment of the right manager with the required mandate will be the first step in achieving targets.

The murmurings that government is considering change in shop timings are, for me at least, a very welcome step. I’ve spent a majority of the last four years in Bangladesh and there is nothing open after 8pm. Restaurants take last orders at 10pm. Sure there is a shortage of power but then they have adequately compensated with generators. Unlike us the majority live in apartments and therefore communal generators are installed. In the more prosperous areas blackouts are hardly felt. Changing habits is not hard; all it requires is commitment. Whether this is accepted across the entire country is the big debate. But the PML-N did change the Friday holiday, a courageous decision, and very successfully. We expect the same now.

As foreign minister the PM will set the agenda for diplomatic cooperation. He has suggested vide a communiqué to the FO that a policy based on economic diplomacy is the vision of this government. Much is required to actually bring investment to the country. Law and order is of prime importance. Retired government officials, civil and military, tend to live in antiquated bliss, especially after years in the wilderness. Every statement is punctuated by “When I was…” I doubt the value of such contribution. There could have been a significantly better choice as advisor.

Having done this, government could perhaps consider appointing a larger foreign policy think tank to assist Nawaz on current intricacies. The world has undergone a drastic change in the first thirteen years of the 21st century; it is this very duration that Nawaz has been out of the loop. The relations with the US and its allies will need handling with cotton wool, while maintaining dignity. The protests again drone attacks fall on deaf ears and it must be weighed how much effort and focus should be directed towards this. It is natural that the US will concentrate on securing its exit next year and will leave no stone unturned to ensure significant success. If it means drones then there will be drones and there is precious little that Pakistan can do to stop it. Relying on actions in 1998 and the consequences will be of no bearing. The world has definitely changed.

Focus and concentration on national progress and development is of essence. The Sharif brothers are builders. Pakistan can benefit greatly. Nawaz built the first real motorway, a great boon, and this has led to many kilometers being made available in the North. Shahbaz’ juggernaut starts at dawn. He has built a delivery network in the Punjab and things happen fast and furious. Now other provinces have to be cajoled and inspired into following suit. The PTI government in KP is likely to make a significant mark if difficult circumstances permit. It is their first chance and they will want to establish a record of good governance to strengthen their significant vote bank in the Punjab. Sindh and Balochistan have dismal development records. There is nothing on ground to show things will be any different.

Change is here and will evolve given space. History has been created in multiple terms. Parliament completed a full term. Elections were held successfully with a record voter turnout. A new party has won majority in a province. Power has been democratically and seamlessly transferred. Nawaz has become PM for the third time. By the time this appears in print, President Asif Zardari would have addressed the parliament for the sixth time. This is of great importance in a country befuddled by political intrigue and conspiracy.

Within the next few days, actually the first 100, of this government the emerging goalpost will be seen with more clarity. The moves to take effective control of the challenges and where it intends to lead us would by then be evident. There is hope, being the eternal optimist, but to secure a prosperous future for Pakistan and its people, sagacity, wisdom and a total closure on autocracy is required. That must define this government.

The writer can be contacted at: [email protected]