Tough task

Tough task

Pakistan’s voters have punished the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for its poor performance by rejecting it at the just-concluded general election. The party has been pushed to the third place after the victorious Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf.

The verdict is a mandate for change. Whether the PML-N will usher in the change the masses seek remains to be seen. In its previous tenures, the PML-N’s governance has been no different from that of the PPP. Still the PML-N displayed some responsibility while in the opposition over the last five years. Unlike in the past, it did not court the military to oust the PPP government. Hence, it should show similar responsibility in power and act decisively to address the problems facing the country.

Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif has inherited a poisoned chalice. Corruption is endemic, the economy is in the doldrums and the country is struggling with a crippling power shortage. The security situation has been worse with bombings and shootings becoming a daily affair. What position will Sharif take on the US drone strikes? And what role will he craft for Pakistan in the Afghan peace process? The international community will hope that Pakistan under Sharif will refrain from meddling in Afghanistan and boosting the Taliban after the withdrawal of Nato troops next year.

Sharif’s return as Pakistan’s Prime Minister marks a dramatic reversal of fortunes. In 1999, he was ousted in a coup by his then army chief Gen Parvez Musharraf and was forced to go into exile for several years. Musharraf became Pakistan’s all-powerful President. Now, as Sharif prepares for his third term as prime minister, Musharraf is under house arrest. The military will watch how Sharif treats the former army chief and his policies towards India, Afghanistan and the US, among others.

Sharif is seen in India as a supporter of normalisation of relations. A Punjabi, he has in the past favoured interaction between the two Punjabs in India and Pakistan. He has focussed on trade to build confidence. Of importance to India, however, is whether he will act on anti-India terrorist groups based in Pakistan. He is known to be conservative and close to religious parties. The world expects Sharif to act decisively against terror outfits in the interests of Pakistan.

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