Had an opportunity to meet Shehbaz Sharif in January 2014, and had a conversation with him on the political undercurrents and warned him of dangers facing the PMLN’s government. Below is the breakdown with the conversation with him.
PAKISTAN’S PRESENT POLITICAL SCENE AND CHALLENGES FOR PML-N’S GOVERNMENT
I wish well to PML-N and want the party to complete its full five years term in order to succeed in implementing its plan. If PML-N succeeds in its effort, Pakistan succeeds.
Having said that, there is a real threat that it may not be allowed to complete its full term and is forced out in the next two years. The reasons are several, but the foremost would be to deny PML-N the time and opportunity to perform and increase it popularity and win the next elections. My view is that who ever wins the next election will have a relatively easier and prosperous phase of economy to manage, hence a longer run in the government.
Mid-term elections, therefore, should not be ruled out and PML-N must operate with this perspective (worst case scenario), while doing its best to prevent it from happening. PML-N should adopt a forward-looking strategy and improve its image in the masses and thwart any move to de-rail the government. Unfortunately, at this moment, the public perception is not favorable and Mr. Flip Flop Khan (PTI) is gaining momentum in Punjab with PPP doing the same in Sindh. It must be checked now or else it might be too late. There are several reasons for PML-N losing the momentum:
- Same Old Faces: The common perception is that same old faces have surfaced and nothing better can be expected from. In particular, Mr. Ishaq Dar, Khawaja Asif and Sartaj Aziz are considered the weakest among the lot.
- Incompetent Finance Minister: People are not happy that an all-important MOF is handed over to an Accountant rather than an accomplished Economist. Mr. Ishaq Dar’s economic management begins and ends with dollar/ rupee parity rate, which is inconsequential in the overall economic paradigm in Pakistan. He is obsessed with foreign exchange rate and sees this as make or break for the economy. With Trade deficit, Pak Rupee will continue to slide and hence not much can be done about it until Pakistan reaches a Trade surplus situation, which is not expected in the near future.
- The family members/ relatives are being entrusted responsible positions that they cannot handle. Generally, it is said that Hamza in now de-facto the Chief Minister – a position he is not capable of managing. It is also said that nothing goes thru to CM without his approval. Maryam is entrusted with the youth development scheme. Ishaq Dar and Sartaj Aziz are family relatives.
- Prime Minister is for Punjab only.
- No Foreign Minister: This is an important slot, which is unfilled and leading to weak foreign policy initiatives and overall lack of positive projection of Pakistan’s image in the foreign countries.
PTI in Punjab and PPP in Sind respectively are benefitting from PML-N’s loss of momentum and appear to be gaining strength. PML-N must get this momentum back and should endeavor to change its perception by taking steps that would allow them to align themselves to public’s expectations, which is to bring a change. Presently, people do not see PML-N as a dynamic and progressive party that is endeavoring to lead a positive change and development in Pakistan. A new look PMl-N is need of the hour to change people’s perception. If this is not done, all the good work will go in the background and will not strengthen PML-N’s position. Below are some are some specific suggestions in this regard:
- Bring new faces in the forefront, particularly the people in key positions such as Finance and Foreign Ministers
- The Prime Minister should reach out to other CMs. Spend more time in other provinces and with other CMs
- Improve PMl-N’s projection in the media. Appoint some body who is more aggressive and is able to more eloquently deal with people like Shirin Mazari, Asma Jehangir Aitazaz Hasan and likes. He should be fluent in English and positively engage in discussions. I must say that PML-N is the weakest among political parties in defending its policies and projecting a positive image.
- Undertake shorter gestation projects to show results.
- As PTI has done establish one medium of instruction for school. General public received this action of PTI as a positive step in bringing equality in education system.
- Allocate larger budget for education, improve the quality of infrastructure, teachers training program and over all education standard and literacy rate.
- Take lead in holding local bodies elections. This will certainly get you ahead of other political parties and help improve PML-N’s image as a progressive party.
- Immediately improve working of SMEDA to help the SME business, which is strapped for cash due to heavy government borrowings from commercial banks. This will have a far-reaching effect on the middle market and compliment the youth development program.
- Install a new Finance Minister. This is hurting PML-N the most. Not only Ishaq Dar is perceived as incompetent, but also one who put Pakistan under the slavery of IMF, hence price hikes and increased tax burden. We need to better explain to masses the reasons for accepting the IMF dictum. We all know that in countries like Pakistan, where there is a dearth of capital and large investment is needed for infrastructure development and building institutions, the tax collections can never be sufficient to meet the financing needs. Tax and price increases, therefore, need to be managed in a way that they hurt masses the least
- Inform people of what is coming. With the large amount of investment in infrastructure and other development project, the economy is likely to go through a hyperinflation phase, such as witnessed by Turkey in 90s, Argentina and Brazil in the 80s. Inform and prepare masses to embrace this change. Indexing the economy may be the answer. It would be very appropriate to get advice from these countries on managing the economy through such phase.
- Set up “Virtual Courts”. In ability to try and punish criminals is causing a lot of damage to the law and order in the country and socio economic activity. One of the reasons is inadequate judge and witness protection. We should consider doing trial of criminal cases through electronic means. One such format would be to install a courtroom in the Jail, where the defense and prosecution present their case in front of a camera. The judge, who may be in some other location, is not visible to either the defense or prosecution. A criminal would go through the whole process, including appeals sitting in Jail. Columbia applied this method to get rid of the powerful and dangerous drug Mafia. It may be useful to tap on their experience. For civil cases set up jury from among the citizens.
- Create a local vigil to track criminals. Establish “Mohallah Committees” to keep a vigil on the criminal elements in their localities. Neighborhood watch and periodic meeting of Mohallah Committee becomes a considerable deterrent to criminals.
- Regulate Madaris. This has become a business and the Madaris are being used to brain wash people. This is a dangerous trend that must be controlled for future of Pakistan. The best solution would be to pass an act in the parliament to bring all Madaris under Govt. control. Any Madarasa found violating the rule would be closed and the management will be criminally prosecuted.
The above are some of the suggestions, which I believe would help PML-N in its governance and improving its image in the short and long run. I earnestly suggest that PML-N do a complete self-assessment and adapt to new ground realities. People want a new look and not old guards in the Government. It is our collectively responsibility towards Pakistan to provide the best talent to manage Pakistan and steer the country on road to socio economic prosperity. By the grace of Allah, Mian Nawaz and Shabaz Sharif have the will, desire and the capability to provide leadership and take the country out of the difficulties, but the people have begun to believe otherwise.