Published — Thursday 16 May 2013
Last update 16 May 2013 2:00 am
Nawaz Sharif is a completely changed person since his return from exile. He is much more articulate and determined to restore the country’s image. When he paid a surprise visit to his archrival, Imran Khan, in hospital on Tuesday night, it was enough evidence, that he is a man of his word, and means business.
Rebuilding the economy which has been in free fall, is his top priority and will be an insurmountable challenge, but he has set himself on course by tasking his trusted lieutenant, Ishaq Dar, to start preparing the new budget, due next month. As far as investment is concerned, his eyes must be focused on the Gulf countries, a region, where he commands enormous respect, and from where he can be assured of a positive response. An indication of the interest shown in Pakistan’s development was evident when a team of Gulf consuls general, based in Karachi, had long discussions with Sindh Gov. Isratul Ebad Khan shortly before elections on investing in the energy sector, banking and other fields.
Nawaz Sharif, as I know him, for I had a chance to be with him for quite some time between 1995 and 1999, is a downright patriot. And despite being a businessman, his priority is to do something concrete for the poorer sections of the country’s population. Also he is forthright, and talks to foreign delegations, including heads of state, with a sense of pride in being a Pakistani. He was a personal friend of former US President Bill Clinton, and won the confidence of Custodian of the Two Mosques King Abdullah, Sheikh Khalifa of the UAE and others. Both King Abdullah and Sheikh Khalifa were among the first to congratulate him on his marvelous victory.
All Nawaz has to do now after settling in office, is to visit Saudi Arabia, and seek Riyadh’s cooperation. The Saudi king himself will muster support for Pakistan from the member states of the GCC. These countries alone can invest so much in Pakistan that American and European assistance will be secondary.
Nawaz Sharif has set an agenda for himself to accord recognition to all those who have secured a public mandate in their areas of influence.
He has already visited Imran Khan to mend fences with him. His visit to Shaukat Khanum Hospital was a masterstroke, and showed beyond any shadow of doubt that he does not suffer from any inhibition or egotistical issues. Similarly, the PML senator Pervez Rashid had said on the very next morning of elections that he recognized and respected the mandate of Altaf Hussain and his party. The MQM should have responded positively to that.
The MQM has not had a very good innings during the last five years it supported the PPP. It is time it learned its lesson. The PPP is never going to give them local bodies, or the district government to rule Karachi. They would rather keep the power and the finances of the local self-government to themselves. That has been a practice of the PPP. Expecting them to do otherwise, will be delusional.
Two major problems the government of Nawaz Sharif can expect to face are dealing with the Taleban and handling the Americans.
He has been favoring negotiations with the Taleban. Keeping the Punjab trouble free during the elections speaks volumes for PML (N)’s tactful handling of the Taleban while Sindh, Karachi especially, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were ravaged by persistent Taleban attacks on party offices and rallies which made the campaigning difficult. Nawaz Sharif is sure to invite the Taleban to the negotiating table, or at least send messages of peace with his government. Likewise, he will deal diplomatically with the Americans and under no condition compromise the country’s sovereignty.
His comfortable electoral victory has already compelled Washington to work toward a closer relationship with Islamabad.
John Kerry, US secretary of state, has intended to visit Pakistan at the earliest. Within 48 hours of Kerry’s statement, US President Barack Obama telephoned Nawaz Sharif to congratulate him on his victory in the elections. He also expressed hopes to have a meeting with him very soon.
This is evidence enough to prove that a government, coming with a popular mandate, will command respect not only from the citizens but also from the international community. The response from across the border was equally heartwarming. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited Sharif to his country.
Nawaz Sharif is experienced in dealing with international issues, and has been straightforward in his talks with the Americans in the past.
He has time and again outlined that he will not compromise the country’s sovereignty. The message to Washington is loud and clear: America will have to stop drone attacks or then lose the right to use Pakistan’s air space. Nothing could be clearer than that.