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Global Issue 15

Arena Politics Third time lucky for Sharif? Inadequate power supplies, civil war with the Taliban and the aftermath of a border skirmish with India are just a few of the items in the in-tray of the former Pakistani leader, who is back at the helm once again Owen Bennett-Jones As he starts his third term as Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif has all he could ask for: a solid parliamentary majority, an army hesitant to stage a coup and a country yearning for democratic good governance. And due to a fluke of timing, by the end of this year he should have been able to install a new President, Chief of Army Staff and Chief Justice. But he also has big problems. The economy is bankrupt and the judicial system fails to deliver convictions. There is a nationalist uprising in Balochistan and an unresolved civil war with the Taliban in the north-west. And, for millions of Pakistanis, the power, education and health systems fail to deliver even a basic service. Sharif’s record is not encouraging – his last government was concerned above all else with securing his political base. He confronted the judiciary (the Supreme Court was ransacked); the parliament (he came very close to introducing shariah law), and the army – which hit back with General Pervez Musharraf’s coup. He was also widely believed to have been corrupt, building up his companies and failing to repay large bank loans. So, the question for millions of Pakistanis is: has he changed? Those close to him, not least his now politically active daughter, Maryam, argue that he has. They say the experience of imprisonment and exile has made him more reflective, sober and determined to serve his nation. Such assurances seem slender evidence on which to base much optimism. But there is another, arguably more telling, factor to consider. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, a democratic government has completed its term and handed power to another elected administration. Unless Sharif is prepared to resort to extreme, and probably violent, measures, he will have to get used to dealing with new power centres, most notably the media and senior judiciary. And, as President Asif Zardari has just discovered, if a Pakistani politician does manage to complete his five-year term, he can expect to face an electorate ready to pass judgement on his government’s performance. The democratic pressures are likely to make Sharif concentrate on specific policy areas. Above all else, he will need to deal with the issue that dominated the campaign: power cuts. If Sharif can make the electricity system work, he stands a far better chance of re-election and of making his PML-N the natural party of government in Pakistan. He can also be expected to indulge his passion for popular, flashy mega projects. A bullet train from Karachi to Pe- Fourteen previous agreements between the Pakistani state and the Taliban have, for various reasons, collapsed 44 l www.global -br ief ing.org thi rd quar ter 2013 global


Global Issue 15
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