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New Pakistani Prime Minister seen facing major challenges

By Manzoor Chandio, written for UPI.com   |   June 5, 2013 at 4:58 PM   |   Comments

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KARACHI, Pakistan, June 5 (UPI Next) --Economic issues, domestic polarization, regional conflicts and a tradition of military intervention present Pakistan's new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, major challenges as the country makes its first transition between democratically elected governments since independence, experts say.

Sharif is marking his third term as prime minister.

Throughout the campaign, he cited poor governance, deteriorating law and order, breaches of sovereignty, corruption, inflation, power cuts, unemployment and increasing poverty as issues his government would tackle.

"Pakistan, both as a country and society, has been confronted with these concerns for a long time," Khalida Ghaus, managing director of the Karachi-based Social Policy and Development Center, told UPI Next.

Ghaus, whose organization works on development and growth issues, said these concerns relate to political stability and governance.

"These concerns have been focus of governments in the past but they failed to develop consensus. It all depends on how they are dealing with financial problems and informal economy," she said.

"It can't be done with a magic wand. Pakistan needs to be focus on socio-economic stability," she said.

Reining in Pakistan's informal economy will be one of Sharif's principal economic challenges, Ghaus told UPI Next, adding that issues that are linked, such as power shortages, unemployment and inflation must be dealt with simultaneously.

Manzoor Isran, who teaches political science at Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, a Karachi university, said the country cannot deal with all the problems it faces at one time.

"Its kitty is empty and its capacity is limited to deal with the plethora of problems," Isran told UPI Next.

In addition, he said, it will need outside help.

Sharif's government, he said, "will need massive financial injections."

"Saudi Arabia has offered $15 billion of aid in the shape of oil on deferred payments, but this only related to electricity, when Pakistan is facing so many problems on different platforms," Isran said.

"It is facing so many traps: the trap of unemployment, poverty, energy, corruption, extremism and terrorism, conflicts and trap of institutional breakdown. It needs wise politics to pull the country out of those traps and offer people some relief," Isran said.

Politically, while Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party won a provincial assembly majority in Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, the provinces of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan will be ruled by other parties.

The Pakistan Peoples Party won in Sindh and cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Balochistan, Sharif's party is negotiating with the Balochistan National Party and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, a Pashtun nationalist party, to form a coalition government.

"All four provinces have a different mandate," Ghaus said, but added that political consensus is needed to bring the nation together.

"First the government will have to create consensus at the society level. Then to achieve political consensus. Things do require process. There can't be quick solutions. No shortcuts should resolve problem," she said.

Sharif may be the person to solve the crisis, she said, pointing to the importance of the relationship that develops between the federal and provincial governments.

"Let's see how the things unfold at the federal level and how Mr. Sharif is developing relations with provinces," Ghaus said.

Isran said Sharif has to be cautious on policies "in the light of centrifugal nature of politics," saying Pakistan is now facing a "volcanic" situation. He cited nationalist pressures in Balochistan, as well as instability in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Analysts see a similar situation in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

These provinces, Isran said, suffer "from the brunt of terrorism and worsening law and order situation."

He said the central government must adopt a "holistic approach" to address economic and political issues.

Asked how Sharif will deal with domestic insecurity, highlighted by the May 18 assassination of PTI leader Zahra Shahid in Karachi, Isran said "given the violent nature of the politics of Karachi," Sharif's government will certainly face law and order problems.

In the past, he said, "Sharif had to face resistance from Karachi" but now he will face "tripartite opposition," referring to the Muttahida Quami Movement, Pakistan Peoples Party and PTI.

"Law and order is a provincial issue, but the center cannot remain oblivious, keeping in view the economic position of Karachi," Isran said. "However, for the peace and tranquility in Karachi, Sharif has to work closely with PPP and MQM and instead of showing any hostility, he has to offer olive branch to them."

"If we have a couple more transitions, a major chunk of Pakistan's problems will be resolved and democracy will be strengthened and parties will grow more mature, tolerating each other and accepting each other's mandate," Isran said.

The thorniest foreign policy issue facing the new government may be Pakistan's role as a frontline state in the U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts in the region. Sharif has called for restraint, in contrast to Imran Khan's PTI party, which labeled President Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Asfandyar Wali Khan, president of the Awami National Party, "American stooges," and called for the shooting down of U.S. drones within Pakistan's airspace.

"It will not be easy for Mr. Sharif to strike a balance between his pacifism and the security establishment's stubbornness," Tauseef Ahmed, head of the Mass Communications Department at the Federal Urdu University in Karachi, told UPI Next. "Mr. Sharif believes in resolving issues through dialogue and the army is opposed to it. The army believes we're a nuclear power and should maintain a minimum deterrence."

"It will not be possible for Mr. Sharif to strike a deal with Afghanistan without taking the Taliban onboard," Ahmed told UPI Next. "There are reconciliation efforts, like the Qatar initiative, but Pakistan has reservations over it. The military wants its upper hand in any peace deal with Taliban."

Under the 2012 Qatar Initiative, promoted by the United States as a vehicle for initiating talks with the Afghan Taliban, the Taliban opened an office in Qatar. Pakistan was asked to bring Pakistani Taliban to the table, but it has failed to do so.

In addition, Pakistan's historic dispute with India over Kashmir -- a bone of contention between the two countries since 1947 -- continues.

Days after his May 11 electoral victory, alongside congratulations from world leaders, Sharif received warnings from the commander of the militant Hizbul Mujahideen, an Islamist separatist Kashmiri group that supports the accession of Kashmir to Pakistan, Syed Salahuddin, over announced planned talks with India over disputed Kashmir.

In several interviews with the Pakistani and Indian press, the Mujahideen chief warned Sharif that compromise on Kashmir would not be tolerated.

The group has bases in the Pakistani-controlled Kashmir region of Azad Kashmir, and has called for Kashmiri independence through armed struggle.

"No government in Pakistan, whether it is Nawaz Sharif or anybody else, will remain in the chair if it abandons the Kashmir cause," Salahuddin told The Indian Express May 16.

"The biggest issue is Kashmir, which is very much close to the heart of the security establishment which still controls the country's foreign and defense policies," Ahmed told UPI Next.

"The military is opposed to a free trade agreement with India and wants to prolong the issue of Kashmir for its own benefit," he said.

"Kashmir is the pretext for the past military interventions and ousting of civilian governments," Ahmed told UPI Next.

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