Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif’s third chance to get it right

On May 11, Pakistanis rejoiced at the first peaceful transition of power from one civilian government to another. However, that should not overshadow the problems that the country faces. The ball is in Nawaz Sharif’s court, the likely next prime minister. Having served twice before, he is lucky to have a rare, third chance to run the country.

Sharif is one of the richest men in Pakistan. His rise from a small businessman to a steel magnate and eventually prime minister is rife with political maneuverings. His center-right political ideology was nurtured by his political mentor — the military dictator Ziaul Haq. His pandering to the radicals is a glaring scar on his legacy.

Pakistan faces an uphill battle on many fronts — education, energy independence, employment, and infrastructure. Before the new government can set out to tackle these issues, there is an urgency to create peace in the society. The rampant bigotry must be reined in. How Sharif tackles the menace of extremism holds the key to Pakistan’s progress.

Remaining ambivalent to its potency is not a choice. The hardliners have wielded influence to disenfranchise minorities and create rifts within Islam. The greatest blemish is the Second Amendment to the Constitution in 1974 that declared members of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, non-Muslims.

Pakistan’s predicament stems from a lack of political will by its leaders. Sharif’s legacy reflects his lack of vision for a healthy and prosperous Pakistan, which needed long term, sustainable solutions and not lofty projects that cater to a small segment of the population.

The Motorway (M2) made commute efficient for travelers between Islamabad and Lahore. The Yellow Cab scheme attempted to kick off employment through soft loans to individuals for purchase of taxicabs. Such projects were heavy on the treasury; M2 cost a hefty $30 billion. The Yellow Cab scheme left banks bankrupt from the heavy financial burden when the scheme flopped.

As the heart of Punjab overwhelmingly voted for Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League in this election, it seems that his family’s selective model of development — which has favored northern parts of Punjab — has camouflaged the reality that was riddled with abuse of power, nepotism and corruption. The two projects mentioned earlier were rife with kickbacks and commissions and involved Korean corporate giants like Daewoo and Hyundai.

On a recent visit to Pakistan, as I traveled along the battered roads of southern Punjab, I was struck by a beautiful sight amid the rural setting — a grand red building, spread across acres of land that was in sharp contrast to the surroundings. I was told that the building was one of the “Danish” schools built by the government of Punjab for children of low income families.

A visit to the local school is always a part of our itinerary when my family visits our village. As we stood on the grounds of the only school in the village, it was impossible to escape drawing a parallel with the “Danish” school that we have witnessed earlier. This school was dilapidated and nothing has changed since the days my father attended this elementary school almost a half century ago. He was lucky that he was later sent off to a boarding school. It is hard to imagine the quality of education in an environment where children are forced to sit under open skies. They carry their own mats, and disruptions are frequent due to the lack of basic facilities.

As Nawaz Sharif is poised to be the next prime minister of Pakistan, I wonder whether he will continue a selective streak of development in accordance with his family’s past record. Would his third term be mere déjà vu or have the vagaries of politics transformed him? The issues at hand demand integrity, patriotism, vision and fairness. It is hoped that Sharif will return as a renewed man, ready to attend to the pressing needs of Pakistan. His comeback must be as a visionary and not a mere politician obsessed with solidifying power and amassing a fortune.

He must look beyond the horizon of northern Punjab and adopt an inclusive model of development that benefits all. Such a strategy can effectively counter the grievances of the neglected provinces and ultimately foster unity in the fractured nation.

Mansura Minhas is a Pakistani-born freelance journalist residing in Hollywood.

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