The Three-time Prime Minister

The Three-time Prime Minister

Nawaz Sharif Three-time Prime MinisterMr Sharif would need to make drastic decisions to resolve all major issues facing the country as the nation is watching with hopeful eyes and expects much from the prime minister who got third time lucky.

After being away from mainstream politics and the echelons of power for 14 years, including a five-year period in the opposition during the Pakistan People’s Party’s tenure from 2008 to 2013, the chief of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif is elected for the third time as the prime minister of Pakistan. Having served as the prime minister twice from 1990-1993 and 1997-1999, he is the first Pakistani politician to become the prime minister for a third time. His last two stints as the premier did bring some economic growth to the country; positive development did come during his first term, and he was widely regarded as a hero when Pakistan became a nuclear power in May 1999. However, in October 1999, the infamous coup by the then Chief of Army Staff, General Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistan-India conflict at Kargil, brought Mr Sharif’s popularity down to a bare minimum when he was sent into exile to Saudi Arabia following the military coup.

During his first term as the prime minister, Mr Sharif dismissed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s policies by privatising the banking sector and levelling the path for industrial privatisation. Analysts opine that Mr Sharif’s conservative policies during his first term were a continuation of similar policies initiated by General Ziaul Haq. However, Mr Sharif’s tenure saw the introduction of reforms to promote fiscal conservatism and supply-side economics, factors that would bring some economic stability.

On the domestic front, 1992 became a nightmare for Mr Sharif’s government when Operation Clean Up began in Karachi where the objective was to cleanse the city of violent elements. This affected Mr Sharif’s economic policies, as industrial production came to a halt and it became difficult to obtain foreign investment at a time when Karachi, the trade hub of Pakistan, resembled a war zone.

Infrastructural development was a major highlight during Mr Sharif’s second term, when his government successfully built the 367 kilometre long M-2 Motorway connecting Lahore with Islamabad at a cost of nearly $ 989 million in November 1997. During Mr Sharif’s second term, lack of capital investment diluted his economic policies, compelling him to loosen foreign exchange restrictions; however, the government still faced a shortage of funds for investment. Impractical economic policies and lack of accountability brought Pakistan’s economic setup on the verge of collapse during the latter part of Mr Sharif’s second term. Structural issues and financial problems engulfed all sectors leading to unprecedented inflation and a surge in foreign debt, which then stood at $ 32 billion.

Moreover, Mr Sharif faced a constitutional crisis during his first term and tussled with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who dissolved the National Assembly on April 18, 1993 by using Article 58(2)(b) of the Constitution, also known as the 8th Amendment. Mr Sharif did not accept President Khan’s decision and took the matter to the Supreme Court, which revoked the decision by calling it unconstitutional.

However, Mr Sharif could not handle the political and constitutional crisis and resigned in July 1993 before settling a deal with the army that compelled President Khan to resign as well. In the elections held in 1993, Mr Sharif lost to Benazir Bhutto, who became prime minister for the second time. Mr Sharif served as the leader of the opposition during Ms Bhutto’s government, the position his party got again during President Asif Ali Zardari’s government from 2008 to 2013.

Mr Sharif’s PML-N won the 1997 elections and public opinion was that he would work to save Pakistan’s declining economy. The Pakistani nation hailed Mr Sharif as a saviour when Pakistan conducted successful nuclear tests in May 1998. However, during his visit to the United States in November 1998, Mr Sharif agreed to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on the condition that India also agrees to sign the document. The military establishment saw Mr Sharif’s proclivity to sign the CTBT as an act of betrayal that would jeopardise Pakistan’s atomic programme.

During his first two reigns as prime minister, Mr Sharif reinforced foreign relations with Europe, Turkey and the entire Muslim world in particular. He signed free trade agreements with Malaysia and Singapore; visited South Korea and signed bilateral agreements with President Kim Young-sam; promoted economic ties with European countries including Italy, Germany, Poland, and Belgium, and promoted Chinese investment in Pakistan. Although Mr Sharif’s foreign policies during his first two terms were fruitful and remained positive, the 1998 nuclear tests gave his policies a severe blow. The nuclear tests, which were the need of the hour to subdue Indian pressure at the border, resulted in the revocation of trade agreements with the European countries. Moreover, Pakistan-US ties experienced rifts when Washington imposed sanctions on Islamabad.

Now that Mr Sharif is back in power, he has to face a range of challenges from the word ‘go’. The energy crisis is probably the biggest challenge staring down at Mr Sharif’s government and solving it must be his top priority for it has crippled Pakistan’s economy. In addition, he would need to forge positive relations with Afghanistan to avert any ‘AfPak’ foreign affairs disaster following the US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. Moreover, Mr Sharif would need to carry forward Pakistan-China relations that President Zardari strengthened. Maintaining stability in US-Pakistan relations is also necessary because even if Pakistan-China relations are flourishing, Islamabad cannot ignore Washington’s influence over Pakistan and the South Asian region.

During his first address to the National Assembly, Mr Sharif called for an end to US drone strikes and said, “We respect the sovereignty of others and they should respect our sovereignty and independence. This campaign must come to an end.” Islamabad is looking forward to a positive response from Washington as President Barack Obama’s administration has been extensively carrying out drone attacks to eliminate extremist forces in Pakistan’s north. In addition, Mr Sharif has to bring Pakistan’s economy back on track as rising inflation rates, declining growth rate and lawlessness has sent the economy into a downward spiral. Moreover, the country’s balance of payments have worsened, foreign exchange reserves are abating, the country needs to repay IMF’s loans, and stagflation, a period of persistent economic slowdown with rising inflation, has broken the country’s economy.

The country’s monetary picture, however, will become clear when Mr Sharif’s government passes the budget for the financial year 2013-14. A major challenge for Mr Sharif is to devise strategies to increase tax revenues and reduce government spending, which is a burden on the national exchequer. Assuming power for the third time, Mr Sharif would need to make drastic decisions to resolve all major issues facing the country as the nation is watching with hopeful eyes and expects much from the prime minister who got third time lucky. – Dailytimes