Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Glimmers of hope for Pakistan

  • Print

The first time Nawaz Sharif became prime minister of Pakistan was almost a quarter-century ago. His second term was ended 14 years ago by a military coup that drove him into exile. Now he's back, a good deal older -- but is he any wiser?

Pakistanis seem to think so -- or at least Punjabis do. Almost all of the seats won by his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party in last Saturday's election were in the province of Punjab, which has more people than all of Pakistan's other provinces combined.

That weakens the legitimacy of his victory, but with the support of some candidates who won as independents he will have no trouble in forming a majority government. The question is: What will that government do?

It's a good question, because Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country of 160 million people that has borders with India, Afghanistan and Iran. It is also, in the view of some observers, fairly close to being a "failed state."

Everybody knows Nawaz Sharif is conservative, pro-business and devout -- during his second term, he tried to pass a constitutional amendment that would have enabled him to enforce Sharia law -- but he hasn't been tremendously forthcoming about his actual plans for his third term. And some of the things he did say have caused concern in various quarters.

The thing that most worries the United States is his declaration Pakistan should end its involvement in the U.S.-led "war on terror." The army is unhappy about his proposal the government should negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban (who conducted a campaign of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings against the "secular" political parties in the recent election) rather than just fighting them.

And everybody is wondering what Nawaz will do about the economy. The country's balance of payments is in ruins and it cannot meet its foreign-debt obligations without negotiating new loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Those loans would come with onerous conditions about balancing the budget and fixing the tax system and they wouldn't come at all without American support.

Pakistan is technically a middle-income country but during the outgoing government's five years in office, power shortages grew so acute most regions are facing power outages for up to 12 hours a day. Millions of vehicles fuelled by natural gas have been immobilized by gas shortages. The country desperately needs foreign investment but the plague of Islamist terrorism frightens investors away.

Finally, the United States will be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan next year and Nawaz Sharif will have to decide what he wants to do about the Taliban in that country (who still have the tacit support of Pakistan's army). The key to all these puzzles, oddly enough, may lie in the incoming prime minister's determination to improve relations with India.

India has seven times Pakistan's population and a booming economy and it long ago lost its obsession with the agonies of Partition in 1947 and the three wars with Pakistan that followed. But the Pakistan army continues to be obsessed with the "threat" from India -- in large part because that justifies its taking the lion's share of the national budget.

If Nawaz could fix Pakistan's relations with India, a lot of his other dilemmas would also be solved.

In each of his previous terms, he tried very hard to make peace with India but was thwarted both times by the Pakistani army. The current military chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is due to retire at the end of this year (after a three-year extension in office) and this will give Nawaz a chance to replace him with someone less committed to perpetual confrontation with India. Then many things would become possible.

An end to the military confrontation would open the door to large-scale Indian investment in Pakistan (including pipelines bringing oil and gas from Iran and Central Asia). It would let Pakistan cut the military budget down to size. And it would end the army's tacit support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, which is all about ensuring Pakistan has a friendly government in Kabul to give it "strategic depth" in its long cold war with India.

The Taliban will inevitably be part of any post-occupation government in Afghanistan but without Pakistani support they will have to strike a deal with other forces rather than just taking over. That outcome would greatly mollify Washington and make it easier for Islamabad to get new loans from the World Bank and the IMF. It would also make it easier for the government to negotiate some kind of domestic peace settlement with the Pakistani Taliban.

Then, maybe, Nawaz could finally get the Pakistani economy back on track.

It's a long string of ifs but nobody else on the Pakistani political scene seems to have a better plan.

 

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2013 A13

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Red River flooding north of Selkik at McIvor Lane

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local/Standup- BABY BISON. Fort Whyte Centre's newest mother gently nudges her 50 pound, female bull calf awake. Calf born yesterday. 25 now in herd. Four more calfs are expected over the next four weeks. It is the bison's second calf. June 7, 2002.
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local- (Standup Photo). Watcher in the woods. A young deer peers from the forest while eating leaves by Cricket Drive in Assiniboine Park. A group of eight deer were seen in the park. 060508.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you agree with the suspensions levied against three bantam hockey players for abusing game officials?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google