It was an emotional expression, that of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, after winning at the polls in Pakistan. By inviting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his oath-taking ceremony he fulfilled the desire to strike real friendship with India. But it should not come as a surprise. Nawaz Sharif has fought and won an election against Benazir Bhutto on the plank of friendship with India.
Unfortunately, New Delhi’s response was tepid. I wish there had been an Atal Behari Vajpayee to travel by bus from Amritsar to Lahore. Then the two prime ministers advocated a new path of normalcy which they were trying to pave. Alas, the amity did not last long. Nawaz Sharif is not to blame for the Kargil misadventure. It was General Parvez Musharraf, then the chief of the army staff and later military dictator, who thought that he could occupy the strategic heights to harass India. Nawaz Sharif did not know about the infiltrators. Musharraf even today claims that “all were on board.” But this is not true. Nawaz Sharif is being unnecessarily dragged into a war which Musharraf waged, fought and lost.
Now that Nawaz Sharif is the Prime Minister he has done well to order an inquiry to find out what happened at Kargil. I believe that Nawaz Sharif took up the matter of Pakistan forces’ withdrawal from Kargil with the help of America to sustain the morale of the armed forces. He placed before President Clinton the case of Pakistan forces although both knew that Kargil was Musharraf’s doing. However, an inquiry will put an official seal on the mistakes committed and who is responsible. A similar kind of probe into the militants’ attack on Mumbai (26/11) will be in order. Nawaz Sharif has assured that such an attack from across the border will never take place in the future.
Elections in Pakistan are noisy, somewhat disorderly and tamasha-like. Even the kidnapping of former Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gillani’s son did not come as a surprise. Yet the political parties were particular about arranging their candidates contest in a manner which would make them winnable. Parties were calculating and knew their strength. Even before the polling, it was known that Nawas Sharif, representing his Muslim League, was strong in Punjab, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under Asif Ali Zardari in Sindh and Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaaf in Khyber Pakhtankhwa in the north-west. The results are more or less on the same lines, although Nawaz Sharif’s victory is convincing, wining both urban and rural seats in Punjab.
One slogan which has been there but was never reckoned with is Pakistan’s friendship with India. All political parties asking for good relations with New Delhi was an important plank in elections. I am not surprised because I have always found the common man on both sides wishing good relations. The governments play politics. They realize that hostility with India or Pakistan does not sell any longer. It is no more a rewarding electoral slogan. Still they emphasize differences, not common points.
I recall the sweep of Nawaz Sharif on his stand of friendship with India. Why political parties have woken up so late is something to introspect. Nawaz Sharif has said that he
would pick up the thread from where he had left off with Atal Behari Vajpayee. This is a positive development because it means the supremacy of liberalism over parochialism.
The heavy turnout of polling goes to the credit of the electorate because the Taliban had threatened the voters. The blasts all over Pakistan were another impediment. Yet the people were determined to sustain the democratic process. Nawaz Sharif occupies the position of prime ministerhsip for the third time. This speaks volumes in favour of Pakistanis because they have elected a person who has said that the PM is the boss of the army.
Nawaz Sharif has his task cut out. He will have to undo most of what the previous government did. The first and foremost would be to meet the poll promises, including providing uninterrupted power supply, to the people. The unemployment problem in Pakistan has made a number of misguided youth an easy target for the religious and radical outfits. Sharif’s government will have to address them to the satisfaction of the people who voted his party to power. He will have to attend to the problem of rampant corruption in political parties and the bureaucracy, the main worry for the people. Another onerous job at hand for him is to strike a balance between his civil administration and the military against which he has nursed a long grievance.
Sharif will be well advised to strengthen the institutions and build up people’s faith in them. That is the only way to keep the military out. It has extended its stronghold even on trade and commerce. Corporations by ex-military hands dominate 70 per cent of Pakistan’s business and the real estate. Government contracts first go to them. No democratic government can be witness to this state of affairs. The military’s rule is to defend the country, not to administer it. The polls have shown the sign of maturity in Pakistan. This is the first election held by an elected political party since the country’s independence. The army has had a centre-stage so far. Probably, it still has. Fragmented political scene suits the army which still gives a message of normalcy in an otherwise unstable country.
Zardari will remain the president until September. Soon after the PML (N) leader will have to look for an acceptable president who will not meddle in the affairs of Sharif’s day-to-day functioning. Similarly, Sharif will have to keep his eyes open on the judiciary which has, of late, been over reactive. Pakistan’s chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary is due for retirement in December and Sharif will have an interest in who replaces the long-serving incumbent. All this will matter for Sharif to keep a tight leash on his government so that he can function independently before he sorts out things one by one.
Institutions are important for a democratic polity. Musharraf demolished them to establish his personal rule. No doubt, this election proved that democratic forces have won yet again. People have made sure that democracy which had begun to take roots some years ago in Pakistan was not uprooted again. One only hopes this does not turn out to be a pyrrhic victory. It is up to Nawaz Shariff to live up to the people's expectations and keep their faith intact. The comment of The Economist should help Nawaz Sharif. EOM