Nawaz Sharif humorously remarked to journalists on Tuesday: “I’m in form today. If they throw a bouncer at me, I will hit it outside the boundary” — and perhaps followed through on the cricketing analogy by actually managing to meet a jam-packed schedule on the day.
He managed to put in some ‘bouncers’ of his own, too: including suggesting that general elections should be held immediately. He was quick to add, however, that he would not support military intervention for this purpose.
He also stated that President Asif Ali Zardari’s governance had failed “miserably.”
Sharif appeared cagey on whether he wanted to be elected prime minister a third time, and said, “I don’t really want to go back to the palaces we were [forcibly] taken out of. I would rather live in a small home”. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief spent the day meeting politicians, businessmen and journalists, and blamed the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government for not caring enough about issues that really mattered: foreign policy, the economy and militancy.
“We wanted this government to complete its full term but President Zardari has miserably failed despite the fact he had a golden opportunity to prove himself.”
Focus on Sindh
On Tuesday, Sharif met with Pir Pagara, the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, the PML-N lawyers wing, trade unionists and addressed a press conference with Irfanullah Marwat. In the evening, he attended an event hosted by the FPCCI. He was to also attend an event by the Pakistan Council on Foreign Relations.
Many of Sharif’s scheduled meetings with Sindh’s notables, however, did not take place. “They might take place during his next visit,” PML-N officials said. Party’s chief organiser Saleem Zia told The Express Tribune: “He’ll be here in two weeks again and will now be visiting Sindh quite often.”
The party said that its provincial leadership was in touch with possible allies in Sindh – the names of former Sindh chief minister Ghulam Arbab Rahim and the Mahars have been doing the rounds – but nothing had been decided yet.
Later, he addressed a gathering along with recent party addition Irfanullah Marwat, who invited Nawaz to hold a rally in Karachi.
Sharif said that it was ironic that some people still believed that military dictatorship could solve Pakistan’s problems.
“Military dictators can fire bullets and kill Nawab Akbar Bugti but they cannot bring the Baloch on the table for talks,” he said. “Only political parties can find political solutions and resolve the grave problems of Pakistan.”
“I’ve said before that the army’s budget should be presented before parliament — that is a first step. It can be referred to a select committee. The agencies’ budget should also not be secret. Parliament should approve and audit the budgets. These were easy steps and were in the Charter of Democracy too.”
Meeting with civil society
Sharif offered a rosy picture of the PML-N’s government in Punjab at a meeting with civil society representatives.
“Punjab is the only province where there is no corruption in the government and where decisions are made on merit and are transparent.”
He added that many of his plans, such as for a network of motorways, were abandoned because his governments did not complete their terms.
According to Sharif, the party’s next manifesto will focus on the economy. “We have a great team of economists; I will be attending the party’s manifesto meeting on December 23.”
He also called for decreasing the income tax rate and eliminating waivers on duty save for a few protected industries. The decrease, he explained at another engagement, would be to encourage more people to pay tax.
(WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FARHAN ZAHEER IN KARACHI)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2011.