By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal
The elections have gone well, and the electoral frenzy is declining fast. Turnout was high, young people voted in large numbers and the idea of democracy seems more strongly rooted than ever before. People have pronounced their mandate. Yes, accusations of rigging are there. In Karachi it was obvious; there are reservations about some other constituencies as well. Hopefully, the Election Commission of Pakistan would sort these out in due course. Pakistan should be proud of most aspects of elections 2013. These have been acknowledged by well reputed international observers as credible and fair elections. There is recognition and even admiration about the amazing courage of the people of Pakistan. People of Pakistan should celebrate the new era when one elected parliament succeeds another.
It is important that the winners and losers of the elections establish respectful working relationship with each other. It is a healthy sign that most of the parties of the previous government have reconciled and conceded defeat. However, berserk statements by the leader of the party representing urban Sindh are deplorable; his utterances have rightly attracted unanimous condemnation from all segments of society. There is a need to strengthen a culture within which adversity is accepted with dignity. At this point, political system needs gracious cooperation by all political entities. The majority party or parties should take into consideration the views of the smaller parties as well. Everyone must feel that they have a stake in the political process and can influence and steer decision making in the right direction. There is need for continued party-to-party interactions, whereby major decisions should be consensus based, driven by data flowing out of research rather than whimsical political opinions.
It is refreshing that the prospective Prime Minister is busy in symbolic acts of reconciliation both at home as well as abroad. He called on the hospitalized leader of the second largest winning party, gave him a bouquet and offered to “bury the hatchet”. On the external side, he invited the prime minister of India to join his inaugural ceremony. That was a clear message to the Indian leadership that he was serious in normalising ties. The direction taken by the future prime minister is prudent, it augurs well for all. Sadly, both gestures proved as non-starters. PTI announced not to have alliance with PMLN. Though symbolics did not turn into substance, visit to hospital helped in lowering the tempers.
Indian Prime Minister is known for harbouring an ambition for leaving behind a legacy of constructing sustainable peace between the two countries. However, he fell prey to pre electoral compulsions and declined to attend the ceremony. Hopefully, post elections 2014 government in India would be at more ease to pick-up the threads. Dr Manmohan Singh has certainly missed the bus.
Mr Nawaz Sharif is known for his enthusiasm for normalizing relations with India. However, Pakistan-India relations are too complex, marred by multi-dimensional issues which can neither be pushed under the carpet nor just wished away. A caution is due, misplaced romanticism for friendly Pak-India relations certainly needs to be moderated with realism. A concerted effort should be made for slow but concrete progress, giving due emphasis on consolidating the gains. If the new governments of Pakistan and India are able to arrest and reverse the trend of one step forward and two back backwards in India-Pakistan relations, it would be a significant achievement.
Notwithstanding the limited success, these gestures by Mr Nawaz Sharif have been widely appreciated, and he stands on a high moral pedestal. He has certainly graduated from a politician to a statesman, having the capacity to balm the wounds of the nation.
Upfront challenges for the new government are provision of good governance and bringing the country out of the economic tangle. The 18th Amendment limits the size of the federal cabinet. Though a leaner government is certainly much more efficient and effective; it does not augur well with the real politick of coalition making. Majority party’s leadership is under immense pressure to accommodate a big number of party heavyweights, won over independents and coalition partners from the smaller provinces. Though the leading party does not need much effort to muster requisite numbers, its compulsions to accrue federal shade and government forming in smaller provinces has generated stress to accommodate those representing smaller provinces in the federal government for their ‘quid pro quo’ concessions in the smaller provinces. Nevertheless, the robust mandate of the leading party means that the smaller parties or individuals joining it will have little power to play tricks as they did with the out going government.
It would be appropriate to begin with fixing the economy. To achieve meaningful economic indicators, a comprehensive approach should include: structural reforms, broadening of tax base, enhancing tax-to GDP ratio, reforming public sector procurement and work services procedures as well as meaningful austerity. So far, federation earns and provinces spend, this has induced a culture of irresponsible spending at provincial level. Tax collection responsibilities need to be further devolved to the provinces. Certainly, Pakistan needs economic growth and development. Issues directly related to economic recovery are militancy and energy shortfall. And there may be no cut and dry solution to these menaces.
While handling the global jigsaw, a government with a decisively populist mandate is well poised for resetting its relationship with the US; issues like drone attacks have caused much resentment. Now as Secretary Kerry is coming to Pakistan with fresh proposals on drone employment strategy, there is a need for concrete home-work for finding a win-win solution to this sticky and tricky issue. Pakistani people do not wish to be lied to any longer. There is a need to harness the uncontrolled anti-America public frenzy and bridge the gap between public sentiment and the state policy. Perception shared by a majority of Pakistanis that their leadership is helpless while conducting inter-state business with America need to be corrected through visible practical steps.
Mr Nawaz Sharif has recently spoken of talking to the Taliban. Draw-down deadline of 2014 is not far away. There is a need to move on this track swiftly, yet cautiously. Contacts with the Taliban should systematically graduate to a level where Afghan Taliban are inducted into Afghan political process in a transparent manner and Pakistani Taliban denounce violence. In this context there is a need to conduct our diplomacy with professional acumen for managing Pak-Afghan relations. The new Prime Minister has a rich experience of Afghan affairs as he had very ably managed the things in the wake of Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. He should develop personal rapport with President Karzai and follow a proactive and initiative driven policy.
Likewise, Pakistan’s regional and global reintegration is long overdue. Now with political transition in the offing, the world is reaching out to a democratically oriented Pakistani leadership. The upcoming government needs to reciprocate with the same warmth, and seize the opportunity. For over a decade, we have been fighting on multiple fronts simultaneously; it’s just the time to close the fronts and move forward for peace and prosperity.