FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 16

Time to heal, not to further deepen the chasm

Amidst ongoing noise over the disputed results of a controversial election, Shehbaz Sharif has assumed the office of prime minister of Pakistan. Shehbaz won the prime minister’s election after securing 201 votes against his PTI-backed opponent from the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) Omar Ayub Khan, who managed to secure 92 votes. After being elected as the 24th premier of the country, he delivered his inaugural speech in which he vowed to steer the ship of state out of troubled waters with the help of allied parties.

PM Shebaz Sharif spoke on a wide range of issues confronting Pakistan, specially mentioning the alarming debt crisis faced by the country. In this context he lamented that even the National Assembly’s expenditures were being paid through borrowed money. He then went on to spell out a long list of promises to set things right, including an end to electricity and tax theft. He said he was  aware of the burden of inflation being faced by the public, especially the lower class but did not explain how he was going to provide relief to people groaning under the back breaking burden of rising prices of essential articles of daily use.

Touching on the critical challenge of youth unemployment, PM Shehbaz Sharif said his government will provide specialised training to 500,000 young students who would be taught the use of technology and artificial intelligence. At the same time, he promised that his government will provide subsidies directly to farmers and that a package on solar tube-wells would also be announced soon. To solve the severe economic crisis gripping the country, he promised to bring foreign investment into the country and create an economic environment that would spur growth. He also announced the setting up of “one window” export zones in all four provinces. Another important subject he took up was the building of a system through which swift justice will be provided to the litigant public.

Many would tend to dismiss the PM’s speech as a set of worn-out platitudes devoid of any substance, especially in view of the fact that he failed to deliver any relief to the people and solution to the burning problems during his earlier 16 months in office. In fact, during his premiership under the PDM government, inflation went through the roof and prices of daily items soared to the skies. Electricity, petrol and gas rates touched unaffordable levels. Hundreds of thousands of educated youth unable to find jobs inside the country went abroad.

This is the record against which his new litany of promises has to be judged. This is especially so because PM Shehbaz Sharif did not give any road map regarding how he was going to translate his promises into action. But taking a charitable view of the situation, one can say that let us give him time and see how his government performs in the coming months. The task before him is not by any means easy because every piece of legislation his government will bring to parliament would be contested by the opposition, particularly by some of the hawkish lawmakers affiliated with the PTI, who have made it clear that they are going to give a hard time to the new government.

There are some obvious dos and don’ts for Shehbaz Sharif in his second term as prime minister. His last cabinet was an overly bloated and unwieldy one which drew a lot of flak from all quarters. There were 90-plus ministers, state ministers, advisers, special assistants and others, many of who were just hangers-on who did nothing and luxuriated at the cost of public money. Sharif should strictly avoid repeating this mistake.

Shehbaz Sharif should not distribute ministries and other offices as political favours to allies who have helped him become prime minister. The people would hate to see PDM 2.0 ruling over them. He will have to be extra cautious in the selection of his cabinet ministers who should be appointed strictly on merit and their capability to deliver the task assigned to them. Last time, Ishaq Dar badly fumbled which brought the economy to the edge of precipice. Given the serious economic crisis facing the country, he should pick a finance minister who has the necessary qualifications and vision to steer the economy to safe shores.

The foremost task before the new government is to control inflation and bring down the prices of articles of daily use. In the last two years the poorer have become poorer and large sections of the underprivileged are eating half a meal a day. Especially burdensome are the electricity charges which are absurdly high and have totally upset the average household budget.

In the political field, one would expect PM Shehbaz Sharif to start a process of bridge building and reconciliation with the opposition. The vote for PTI-affiliated candidates was actually a vote against the status quo and the present iniquitous system dominated by the elitist classes. The government will have much to gain by accommodating the independent MNAs and thus showing respect for those who overwhelmingly voted for them. This is a time to heal, not to further deepen the chasm through short-sighted, revengeful policies.