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The honeymoon agenda

PM-elect Nawaz Sharif will have to distinguish between popular politics and the ‘right’ politics this time around. The possibility to deceive an electorate is almost nonexistent. The drubbing received by his older nemesis, the PPP, provides ample evidence of this. What is it then that one hears about a ‘good-news budget’ that the PM-elect wants his nominated Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to pursue?

There is news that this will translate into a pay-hike for all, probably focused mainly on the lower strata of employees – both government and semi-government. Perhaps also a few more subsidies, a gift of sorts for the commoners as the emperor rides into his capital to assume power. A replay of the 90s? He wouldn’t like to go that route, for well-known reasons. Here’s some news for him if he missed out on it: the country and the political landscape have changed immeasurably and now we know how to tell the sham from the real.

The people of this country expect their prime minister to speak the truth to them. In case you missed it, Mr PM-elect: ‘speak’ and ‘truth’. Neither was much in vogue the past five years. That is why we chose you, hoping you will do both – ‘speak’ and ‘speak the truth’. We don’t want hand-outs; we want a solution to our problems, something far more profound and long-lasting than mere hand-outs.

Mr PM-elect, the treasury is depleting very fast. Our deficits are sky high; we spend far more than we earn as a nation; the country is almost at the verge of being declared bankrupt because without further loans and borrowing we cannot pay off loans that are due very soon; growth is minimal, if any, and most probably fudged to keep some lingering hope. And you order relief, Mr PM2-elect, when none is conceivable given the state of your finances?

Any prime minister will have one thing going for him as he assumes power – mandate, loosely translated as political capital that he will bring along as his power potential. And it is here that most will go wrong. Chief executives have been known to fritter their capital in the very early days in idealistic pursuits. Political capital is different; it is popular ‘trust’, mandated to an elected leader to attend to the difficulties that most afflict a people.

These challenges and problems include law and order which can preserve both life and property of the citizens. This will mean a few things in parallel; bringing the festering war in our tribal regions to a closure – the choice of strategy is his, as long as there is one. It also means enacting laws and setting up courts to take to task those that have wronged both the state – its laws and the constitution – and its people; and initiating political healing where it will help, as perhaps in Balochistan.

Karachi is a combustible mix, unfortunately, and will need a simultaneous application of all of the above for a long-term cure. It will also need a firm hand with the conviction and the ability to stay the course even when the going gets tough. That is why we chose you, Mr PM-elect. And these are only the immediate-to-short term goals. Medium-term objectives include enacting a national security policy that will be all-encompassing and beyond the domain of traditional security. It is a separate beast altogether, but just as a pointer it includes defense policy, foreign policy and economic policy.

So what is it that should be happening as the honeymoon beckons? Two parallel tracks of meetings. One should be held under the especially constituted ‘core security group’ of the government-to-be on evolving strategies to address issues that have bedeviled this nation into a decade-long war against terrorism. And the second by the PM-elect himself along with his ‘core security group’ and the executive arms of the government that are directly engaged in prosecuting that war, which really means the military and the intelligence. If it hasn’t begun, it is precious time lost already.

The supporting arms of the government – the ministries of interior, foreign affairs and law – need also to be included in such deliberations. What, you don’t have a core security group similar to the core economic group? Get one soon, Mr PM-Elect. Time is of the essence here.

Having survived, these people will need to eat – and that is where the economy comes in. Of that, the PM-elect surely does not need to be reminded. There were two dominant drivers of public expression when it mandated Nawaz Sharif in such huge numbers as the PM-elect: jobs and energy.

We have been desperately short of both, with almost 47 percent of the population pushed into abject poverty, simply no electricity, or gas in the winters, to run their homes. What it has done to the industrial sector is manifested in the large-scale loss of jobs adding to the misery of the people. Nawaz Sharif has identified the two well and his emphasis on the economy and the power sector is equally well placed.

We do not need any band-aid solutions. If this nation can withstand the devastation wreaked by the non-existent leadership of the last five years it will happily be ready to bear a little more as deeper corrections to its predicaments are seen to be put in place.

What is important is to talk to them, much more often than what our political leaders are prone to do. These are the same people who happily gave up their precious savings in gold and silver when Nawaz Sharif last asked them to assist the nation. Keep in mind that Barack Obama, the leader of the most developed nation in the world, talks to his people every month through a radio address. Surely ours can do it at least once in two months!

Perhaps what is essential to understand is that like our needs have changed, politics must change too. The time to play politics with people’s core concerns has gone. Traditional politics will have to give way to a modern brand that is built around provision of services to the people and formulation of policies that can bring relief to unattended ailments. Similarly, the approach to the resolution of these predicaments will have to be beyond the laissez-faire political tradition, the kind that was in play when Mian Sahib was last in power.

Honesty, straight and frequent talk, sound policies, and firm governance without nepotism and patronage will do it for him. Does Mian Sahib have it in him, the third time around?

The writer is a retired air-vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and served as its deputy chief of staff. Email: shhzdchdhry@yahoo.com

Shahzad Chaudhry, "The honeymoon agenda," The News. 2013-05-24.
Keywords: Economics , Economic issues , National issues , Policy making , Economy-Pakistan , Economic growth , Budget-Pakistan , Electricity issues , Budget deficit , Defense policy , Foreign policy , Economic policy , Debts , Politics , Poverty , Nawaz Sharif , President Obama , Ishaq Dar , Pakistan , Balochistan , Karachi , PPP