General Elections in Pakistan-what these portend

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Official and media circles have generally taken a positive view of the recently concluded general elections in Pakistan. This is the first time in Pakistan’s 65-year history that power has been transferred peacefully from one elected government, which completed it’s five year term to it’s successor without the government failing to complete its term for one reason or another. Secondly, by all accounts the powerful military which has interfered in previous elections by favoring one group over another, this time kept itself aloof from the electoral process. It is also remarkable that the political personality who has come out on top is Nawaz Sharif, leader of his faction of the Pakistan Muslim League. Sharif was elected as Prime Minister twice in the 1990s, but each time could not complete his term. I happen to know him since I served on his staff in the senior position of Additional Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Defense (1992-1993). Mr. Sharif has long government experience as Chief Minister and Finance Minister of Pakistan’s largest and most important province, the Punjab. In his previous stints as Prime Minister, he had developed a reputation of being somewhat impetuous and arrogant. However, having been removed from office through an army coup in 1999, Mr. Sharif spent the next 8 years in political exile in Saudi Arabia. Reportedly, he has mellowed and matured, which means that his decision-making would be more deliberative and devoid of interpersonal considerations. Certainly the 180 million people of Pakistan are looking up to him to improve their economic condition, which has suffered perceptibly through mismanagement, greed, and corruption at the official level. The biggest burden all Pakistanis have had to bear was the inexcusable load shedding of electricity, which they had to suffer for between 10-18 hours a day, depending on where they lived. It does not take much imagination to see how severe the impact on economic activities and industry in Pakistan has been without an assured supply of electricity. Pakistan has been growing at a meager 3-4% a year during the previous government’s tenure. Sharif’s herculean task would be to get rid of power shortages, which are styming Pakistan’s growth and destroying the morale of the populace. Coming from a businessman’s background, and having made a fortune in the steel business, Sharif is well-equipped to tackle Pakistan’s manifold economic problems. Whether he is also clear about how to reduce militancy in the tribal areas, which is ominously metastasizing into Southern Punjab, and the insurgency in Baluchistan is another matter. Success here would depend to quite a large extent, I believe, on his relationship with the army who will have to be called upon to continue their counter-insurgency campaign in the tribal areas. Baluchistan does not require an army approach; on the other hand, the Baluchi rebels require to be re-inducted into Pakistani society through negotiation and compromise. Sharif will also have to reassure the minorities that they will be treated fairly and equitably, and that religious extremists would not be allowed to harass or oppress them. It should be clear that he would require all the help from Pakistan’s political, social and economic classes, if he is to succeed. Can the Pakistani people muster the discipline and unity to overcome the gargantuan issues confronting them? Only time can tell. One has to wish Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistani people the best of luck at this critical juncture in Pakistan’s history.

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