Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader, three times elected and convicted former prime minister of Pakistan, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, has been granted a temporary suspension of sentence in Al-Azizia Steel Mills case by the caretaker government of Punjab using its powers under section 401 of Code of Criminal Procedure Act, 1860. This suspension is subject to a final court decision. Furthermore, he has also secured an extension of his protective bail from the Islamabad High Court and suspension of the warrant issued by the accountability court in the Toshakhana case.
Apparently, Nawaz Sharif will get relief from the higher courts, primarily because of several technical and legal shortcomings in the trial court’s verdicts. In such eventuality, he may become eligible to participate in the upcoming general elections—schedule not announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan as yet. This delay has persisted since the premature dissolution of the National Assembly of Pakistan on August 10, 2023.
However, vital questions emerge about Nawaz Sharif’s future strategies, given his standing as veteran politician with vast expertise in public matters, as thrice head of government of world’s seventh nuclear power. During his address on October 21, 2023 he shared his 9-point plan to address the prevailing economic challenges that include escalating inflation, rising poverty and unemployment.
His 9-point agenda includes curbing administrative costs, augmenting income/revenue, initiating tax reforms, boosting exports, improving information technology sector, initiating privatization, fostering job creation, and implementing reforms within the judicial system.
Nawaz Sharif also stressed the need for regional connectivity and resolved to open a new economic corridor involving India and Bangladesh but how would he implement it when Pakistan is grappling with numerous issues, including strained foreign relations, dwindling foreign exchange reserves, the looming risk of default, surging inflation, and diplomatic differences with neighboring nations? The current global circumstances are also unfavourable—extreme polarizations due to Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflict/wars.
In this scenario, securing funds appears quite difficult. Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan’s closest allies, is facing its own problems. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, recognized for his progressive approach and efforts to enhance the country’s image, has initiated various economic and social reforms. A few months back, he expressed his vision for Arab countries, foreseeing their collective economic growth surpassing Europe’s within five years.
Muhammad bin Salman also emphasized that the Middle East, which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Jordan, and Lebanon, is poised for a thriving economy. He believes that the next global renaissance will originate in the Middle East, making it the new future Europe. The Crown Prince’s assertion is far from simple as it upsets the international status quo, which is resistant to a stable and peaceful Middle East. Muhammad bin Salman had been taking steps to improve relations with Iran and was in the process of negotiating diplomatic ties with Israel. However, abruptly, a conflict erupted, with Israel causing the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians, including women and children.
Surprisingly, both European and United States governments have supported the Israeli atrocities. It appears that Israel is not inclined towards a ceasefire and is devastating Gaza City, including hospitals and schools. The Western powers are also supporting Israel to advance its goal of a greater Israel. This situation is deeply concerning for the entire Arab community, posing existential threats to their security.
In this scenario, even if Nawaz Sharif does form a government can he seek cooperation/investment from fraternal Middle Eastern nations e.g. Saudi Arabia and the UAE? Would future collaboration be without any costs and conditions, or would it be contingent upon the fulfillment of their respective agendas?
It is worth noting that in the past, Nawaz Sharif rightly declined Saudi Arabia’s request for cooperation in its conflict with Yemen to remain neutral as an important member of Muslim world. As a result, Pakistan lost the support/trust of its two close allies, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, that subsequently strengthened their ties with India.
In case of any cooperation with traditional allies, the western nations will not accept it considering its strained relations with the United States and Europe. Even our closest ally, China, has its own reservations about our role in the past six years. China is also struggling with various issues while sharing its resources with Pakistan and is likely to come down with stricter conditions.
Our businessmen have consistently raised concerns about the existing trade agreement with China, emphasizing the need for a revision, as it reflects a favourable tilt towards Chinese interests over theirs. Additionally, renegotiation of Chinese loans acquired for various projects in Pakistan is now imperative. With existing issues already taking a toll on our economy, pursuing new arrangements without addressing the existing ones will only exacerbate strain on our national treasury.
Nawaz Sharif has also expressed a keen interest in cutting administrative expenses. While this may sound appealing, it is worth noting that reducing necessary administrative and operational expenses without proper research and rationale can potentially impact efficiency and overall performance, which may, in turn, affect the country’s economic growth.
Taxation reforms are also part of his agenda. However, the specifics of these reforms have not been divulged. The Income Tax Ordinance of 2001 has undergone numerous amendments in 23 years, often introducing various types of transactional taxes rather than addressing fundamental issues.
Broadening the tax base is a critical factor for our economic growth, but it cannot be achieved without formal documentation of our economy. This necessitates establishing robust controls and collaboration among various departments, including labour, commerce, taxation, the State Bank, and others, to create an effective system ensuring efficient information sharing that can detect potential tax payers/evaders. Implementing such controls could be difficult since his voter base essentially includes the traders’ community.
While his intention to revolutionize information technology (IT) is commendable, a detailed plan outlining how to achieve this goal has yet to be revealed. This ambition becomes particularly tough in the face of soaring inflation, which makes it onerous for students to pursue IT education. Given that the state and financial institutions do not provide funding for students’ education, achieving the desired results will be a formidable task, unless there is easy access to IT education for the masses. Additionally, the plan should encompass the provision of devices, affordable internet access, subsidized electricity, and free training boot camps in the short term to meet these objectives.
Privatisation is a pressing requirement, given that ailing industrial units are a primary source of our fiscal bleeding. However, this endeavour demands the collective will of all institutions and political parties. Furthermore, privatization laws must be overhauled to enhance their effectiveness. Although Nawaz Sharif has shown his eagerness to accelerate privatization, he will face the challenge of persuading some of his own party members, institutions, including the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the National Accountability Bureau.
Boosting exports is everyone’s priority in Pakistan, but it is not possible without fostering robust relations with neighbouring countries, India, Iran and Afghanistan. While Nawaz has discussed the importance of building positive ties with neighbours, the future will reveal how he goes about developing a constructive or at least a functional relationship with India, which would potentially enhance our export opportunities manifold.
While stressing the need to enhance traditional exports, Nawaz Sharif has overlooked the significant aspect of human capital export in his agenda. In the present times, export of human capital plays a pivotal role in foreign policy and foreign exchange reserve generation. India, among our neighbors, is reaping substantial benefits from this trend. Its expatriates are not only at the helm of leading US corporations but also shaping the nation’s foreign policy, contributing significantly to the country’s progress.
We have been lagging behind in this area. Nawaz Sharif should underscore its importance in his party manifesto, with a focus on enhancing human capital export. This strategy should aim to achieve three key objectives: generating foreign exchange, influencing foreign policy, and attracting foreign investments to our homeland.
While the nine-point agenda seems appealing, it is evident that its implementation will be quite formidable. Nawaz Sharif should present a detailed plan to the public, addressing the current scenario marked by increasing divisions among regional and global nations. The world’s largest economies are grappling with issues such as inflation, unemployment, and poverty.
Nawaz Sharif needs to elucidate how he plans to execute 9-point agenda in the face of an existing passive foreign policy, dwindling foreign exchange reserves, and high taxes. His plan should also outline how he intends to provide relief to the masses without contravening and/or bypassing the International Monetary Fund’s stipulations.Huzaima Bukhari, Dr Ikramul Haq and Abdul Rauf Shakoori, "Nawaz’s 9-point agenda," Business recorder. 2023-10-27.
Keywords: Political science , Political leadership , General elections , Economic Corridor , Nawaz Sharif , High court , Foreign exchange , Foreign policy , Hamas conflict , Russia , Ukraine , Israel