ISLAMABAD: The biggest PML-N plank is that it promises a better government in Islamabad than being run by the PPP.

Nawaz Sharif believes that the PPP under Asif Zardari is going downhill and he hopes that this fruit of power will fall in his lap in due time. And with a bang of ‘heavy mandate.’

It is a pity that Nawaz Sharif’s political existence is still defined in opposition to the PPP despite being there in politics for 27 years and in power for 13 years. The PML-N still does not stand on its own.

The party leadership starts babbling if you ask such questions: What is your ideology? What is your vision about resolving Pakistan’s economic woes and revamping agriculture and industry? How will you resolve energy and water crises? What is your security paradigm? How about relations with India?

Tension mounts further when you delve into more critical areas: How do we handle the growing menace of Taliban and religious extremists? How much further should the Army be involved in Fata operations? How do we renegotiate civil-military relations to stop the future Khaki excursions? What should we do when and if the Americans leave Afghanistan? How do we balance between the need for American money and their political agenda? Individuals will give opinion in their personal capacity on these issues but there is no clarity on party position. The party website offers a manifesto, which was meant for the elections and stands obsolete. It is more rhetoric and does not give any concrete answers on specific issues.

It seems the PML-N has wasted the last two years and not done enough homework on their policies on issues that have become critical for the country. PML-N Information Secretary Ahsan Iqbal says that a few policy formation committees were made and they meet occasionally. But he acknowledged that the pace of work might not have been ideal. He could not say that the PML-N has done its homework to grab power but no work on how and where to use it. Is it because of incompetence or there is some strategy behind it? A bit of both may be. Nawaz has not developed a team of political specialists who could control and guide bureaucracy for right execution despite enjoying the longest tenure in power.

The PML-N is short of experienced people. Most veterans have switched over and the new ones have a little or no exposure of the government. And there is no atmosphere for learning either. Poor Ahsan Iqbal is misfit in a culture where the Sharif brothers are using the wrestling tactics practised by their cousin Bholu Pehlwan in foreign affairs and national security. (Kulsoom Nawaz is the great granddaughter of the only world-wrestling champion from united India, Gama Pehlwan). Give us power and we shall sort this country out through ‘dhobi Patka’ seems the idea.

They are good at criticising the PPP but offer no alternative solutions. The concept of a shadow government is alien to them. Nobody knows who needs to specialise in which ministry. Opaqueness works well as everybody looks to Pir Nawaz for throwing the candy at him or her in the end. However, the opaqueness in policies keeps the voters confused. A few trends could be predicted for the future cabinet though. There will be lots of Kashmiris around. And Ishaq Dar, who is now a relative plus Kashmiri, may be given more than his previous two ministries of commerce and finance. Women nominees for parliament, like the case now, except for Ishrat Ashraf, will be Chachis, Mamis and Khalas of their Kashmiri brethren, having no exposure to politics.

Experience tells us that the training on the job is the last thing that this country can afford at such critical times. By the time a minister gets to learn the ways around his job, the countdown for going home starts, to quote ‘Yes Minister.’

The PML-N needs to spell out, perhaps a white paper to be tabled in parliament, what they stand for not just in clichÈs, but in substance. Some issues are more critical than others. Economy is one area where the PML-N evokes some concern. The problem with Ishaq Dar being the in-charge of finance is the same that we have had with all the finance ministers since Mehbubul Haq. None of them was an economist. We have had too much and too many local and imported bankers and accountants. Experts agree that they may be good in the services sector, but may not understand the exigencies of a political economy where the gap between the rich and the poor has reached alarming levels. A balance between political needs and budget management is needed. The Punjab government may not be the model where the chief minister’s penchant for political ploys, given in the shape of massive subsidies first in the Ramadan package and then in Roti, has left its coffers empty. A wheat storage crisis is also believed to be at hand in the province of good governance. We need to have a larger economic model, a la Manmohan Singh, before we privatise or liberalise further.

Marathon discussions with economists reveal that there is no way we could get out of the economic morass without thinking radical. The PML-N needs to announce its policy on how they want to handle debt servicing and cut down the defence budget without compromising security. These two comprises, roughly 80 per cent of the budget, with another 10 per cent going as cost of the government, also requires reforms. Perhaps they need to consult the Army for revamping or trying new models. They will not be able to do that once they are in power and the time to do that may be now or never. This is what Shahbaz and Nisar should be talking to the chief in secret meetings and not making the commitments they cannot fulfil later. Perhaps, Nawaz Sharif should change his emissaries. This will be the sixth Army chief that they may estrange.

The policies over India, Afghanistan and particularly the US should also be more transparent. Some say that the public posturing is different from what is conveyed inside. Shahbaz Sharif seems to have this bias that Baboos and not politicians can deliver results. Nowhere in the world has development taken place without local bodies. The Musharraf model may be flawed but it could be improved by, among other things, direct elections of Nazims and mayors. No harm in sharing a little power, Mian Sahib. Perhaps a Saraiki province might change your image of just being Punjabis.

The whole package on Taliban eradication should be voiced loud and clear. They should propose solutions instead of being part of the problem by, for instance, allowing a banned outfit to hold a rally in the heart of Lahore.

Finally, the present state of the PML-N affairs does not promise a Camelot where Nawaz Sharif’s tiger will share the pond with other lambs. At the best, it will be a repeat of the earlier pattern where the messenger, who brings bad news like us, is blamed. We hope the series is received in positive spirit and the PML-N takes the lead with a bang. No Bholu Pehlwan tactics.

PS: The name of MNA Khawaja Saad Rafiq’s wife is Ghazala and not Asma, as published in the earlier report. Saad’s protest that his political struggle has been belittled by painting him as a Kashmiri, rewarded for his caste, stands registered.


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Date: Tuesday, March 30, 2010