Monday, August 19, 2013

Mission statement - The News International

In his first address to the nation since taking over as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif decided to be the purveyor of bad news. The role of pessimist-in-chief is one that badly needed to be filled, so dire are the problems we now face. The initial focus of the speech was, understandably, the power crisis and resultant loadshedding. Here, in a refreshing departure from the ludicrous promises of the previous government that loadshedding would end soon, Nawaz Sharif gave us a much-needed reality check. He diagnosed the problems of circular debt, power theft and the refusal of many to pay their bills but did not claim that the problems would be solved overnight. In a rare case of a politician not talking down to us and being honest about the scale of the problem, the prime minister said that even if the circular debt was eliminated, we would still need to produce more power. Increasing capacity for coal-based power, he said, would take three to four years and that of water at least eight to ten years. Nawaz Sharif was similarly candid about the state of the rest of the economy, reserving particular scorn for state enterprises. He pointed out that the losses from state corporations amounted to Rs2.5 trillion in the last five years, and singled out PIA and Pakistan Railways for their poor performance, which may be seen as an indication of his privatisation priorities.

The prime minister appeared just as clear-headed about the problem of terrorism. He pointed out that fear had pervaded everyone, from law-enforcement agencies to the courts to witnesses. This, once again, was a shift from the previous government which always sought to paint as rosy a picture as possible. He left possible solutions up in the air, saying that the state was willing to take part in talks but would also use force whenever needed. Linking the problem of terrorism to our foreign policy, including relations with India with whom he claimed we have engaged in "useless wars", was a bold move which reiterated the prime minister's commitment to peace with our neighbours. Sharif lashed out against drones as an infringement of Pakistan's sovereignty but did not quite say what he intended to do about them. On Balochistan too he repeated the standard mantra of needed development, saying there would be no further indifference to the problems of Balochistan and that the provincial government would be helped in resolving these. But he fell short of suggesting any new ways to tackle the problem. Also, on Karachi the prime minister had little to add on the law-and-order situation beyond suggesting his pet projects of motorways and railways. But for the most part, in a maiden speech that was surprisingly sober and thoughtful, Nawaz Sharif has shown rare maturity. There were no earth-shaking revelations but he appeared to have brought with him a new sincerity and a new sense of commitment. The real test for Sharif, however, comes now. His words of August 19 will be replayed many times in minds, and no doubt on television screens, in the years to come as we all look back to see if he can deliver on what he has pledged. If he is able to fulfill even some of the commitments made, Pakistan can truly hope to set out in a new direction.
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