Analysing the PML-N’s governance

Published: February 25, 2014
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Pakistan’s successful transition from one democratically-elected government to another in 2013 was indeed a major step forward towards preserving democracy and so were the smooth transitions in the military and judiciary. But the electoral process, though crucial, is only one aspect of strengthening the foundations of a country. Equally critical is the government’s performance and strategic direction, especially when our country is besieged by huge challenges of militancy, law and order, economy, corruption and a volatile neighbourhood. Judged by these criteria, the current political leadership hardly meets our expectations, considering that it returned to power with such a heavy mandate.

It is also true that introducing a new strategic direction and reversing age-old policies will not be an easy task for the PML-N government. Several steps will have to be taken including, most importantly, mobilising public opinion to gain support for its policies and ensuring that civilian and military leadership is on the same page when it comes to issues of security and foreign relations.

No doubt, the present civil and military leadership enjoy a good personal relationship and there is constant communication between the prime minister (PM) and the army chief, but what seems to be lacking is the full actualisation of the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) and NACTA that have been specifically created for the very purpose of institutionalising decision-making. The recent confusion and dithering that prevailed among our political leaders in deciding the future course of action in dealing with the various militant groups could have been largely avoided if decisions had been taken on the basis of advice provided by the CCNS.

Moreover, to maintain civil-military relations on the right course, it is important that decisions of national level are taken with inputs from all major stakeholders in an institutional framework — a practice that is normal in all functional democracies. Going by the number of times the CCNS and the NACTA have met, it seems decision-making by the present government remains confined to a coterie of loyalists or close relatives. Use of arbitrary power by our civilian leaders negates the very spirit of democracy.

It is also true that when all institutions are working within their constitutional boundaries, it reduces friction and improves performance through greater accountability. And the best outcome of it is that the defence of the country gets a huge boost when the nation is fully behind its defence forces. This phenomenon is as much applicable when fighting an external enemy or against an internal insurgency. The indifference shown by the PPP-led coalition government from 2008 to 2013 in matters of security resulted in militants expanding their space, and the current vacillation by the PML-N government elevated the status of the militants politically and psychologically.

In functioning democracies, it is a matter of routine that the cabinet meets on a regular basis and the prime minister attends parliament regularly. It seems the prime minister is not interested in taking the people in confidence about his policies. The PM has mostly remained absent from the National Assembly and the Senate, although these are prerequisites of good governance and leadership. When the PM and his ministers speak in parliament, they also communicate with the people of Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif’s presence in parliament will force other parliamentarians and especially his party members, to take legislative business seriously. Interest by top leaders of government in parliament improves the overall process of accountability and governance. Not only does it speed up legislative work but also acts as a fillip for the various committees of the parliament to be energised. From what has been reported, it seems that apart from a few committees, many have yet to hold any serious deliberations. It is time that our civilian rulers are held to higher standards of performance than what is at present the case. In this, the primary role should be of the opposition parties. Regrettably, their performance so far has been equally disappointing.

For the PM to be truly assertive in the formulation of foreign, defence and security policies, he will have to make use of institutions. In the absence of institutional back-up and inputs from different agencies, decision-making is skewed with an adverse impact on governance and relations with foreign countries. An institutional approach is also a part of democratic culture. Managing foreign relations, developing national power, decision-making and strategic assessment all are part of governance and have to be taken seriously. Any neglect of these, especially at a time when the country is facing multiple challenges, will be at the country’s peril.

We also expect our leadership to be held accountable to the people and also remain restrained by a system of checks and balances. But if major decisions are being taken outside the framework of institutions, then accountability becomes difficult as checks and balances become vague. Reliance on institutions for decision-making compensates for inadequacies of leaders and responsibility is then shared.

For effective governance, the PM, in concert with the cabinet, should have taken hard decisions on the economy, security and foreign policy. No doubt, there has been a realistic appraisal of the state of the economy and matters concerning taxation. But political expediency prevented PM Nawaz Sharif from undertaking economic reforms and widening the tax base. Regrettably, the long-term consequences of having a dysfunctional and dependent economy for security and sovereignty are enormous, as we have witnessed in our short history of 65 years. Are we going to continue living on foreign sustenance or take concrete measures towards developing a self-sustaining economy?

Pakistani leaders have never given the economy the importance it merits, given the crucial role it plays in building the foundation of the state. The emphasis has been to depend heavily on foreign assistance for survival and minimal efforts toward socioeconomic development, restructuring and educational reforms. As a consequence, the economy has been in a downward spiral for several years. Logically, chronic economic difficulties have huge implications for the security and well-being of the masses.

Experience has shown that ensuring the continuation of the democratic process and strengthening institutions can overcome weakness in governance.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • nadeem
    Feb 25, 2014 - 10:56PM

    Pakistani leaders have never given the economy the importance it merits

    General sahib, you do realize that a sound economy in the 21st century requires heavy investment in education, in rule of law, in healthcare, along with rational fiscal and monetary policies. With most of our revenue going to the Army and debt-servicing, where will the investment money come from? Unless of course there is a big cut in military spending. And if the Army is not ready for Pakistan’s transformation into a welfare state, we are better off with the current lousy economy – at least this state of poverty is forcing the generals to re-think their support for militants who have killed 50,000 citizens. Recommend

  • Ex-Aitchisonian
    Feb 25, 2014 - 11:53PM

    Pakistan to PML(N) is like a tissue paper to an ill person.


  • Rex Minor
    Feb 26, 2014 - 12:28AM


    Do not dismiss the Generals opinion out of hand. He is a brilliant writer, deep thinker and writes with purpose. I am a foreigner but could tell you what it is.? He knows that Nawaz Sharif is now ruling in alliance with the new military chieftain whose responsibility is security. He also knows for whatever reasons that the former Prime Minister of Pakistan who worked under the military rule was very successful in achieving yearly growth in Pakistan economy. He would like to see this performance from the current Prime minister and has outlined certain steps for him failing which I guess that the honourable Nawaz Sharif will be replaced. The latter is my guess only. .

    Rex Minor


  • monen
    Feb 26, 2014 - 2:01AM

    for a second thought ,please look into for the budget spending with regards to allocated budget.hardly 11% had been used out of the allocated budget.what the army has to do with the less spending .


  • A2Z
    Feb 26, 2014 - 7:41AM

    Defense and education, both are important. It is not possible to ignore one and concentrate on another. Both need equal attention. It is fashion in our country to blame army for everything. If education ministry is not spending its budget properly then it is not army’s fault.

    Just for example, University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore is struggling with finances. The uni is taking away the concession from students. It started happening when PML-N came into the power. I know there are lot of brilliant students who cannot afford to pay the full fees. In such situation govt gave priority to laptop scheme rather than helping an institution. Now this is not army’s fault if current education budget is not being spent wisely.


  • Nikki
    Feb 26, 2014 - 10:29AM

    Despite having heavy majority in House, the leader of the House remains confuse.Has no will power to decide and heavily depends on his commrades; which are few.So this type of mobcracy in this country may not work.They dont decide as leaders ,but act as politicians whos future is always uncertain.
    For how long Pakistan will make experince with ineffective political rulers? They will have to deliver or to drive toward their own places.


  • Rizwan
    Feb 26, 2014 - 10:40AM

    Dear General retired sahib we agree that this government does not meet your expectations and it is because your expectations are very high…Let the government pass its term of 5 years then you can judge their performance….When a student is enrolled in a graduation or master program, it has to complete 4/2 years in the university and then he/she sits in exams…and then the result is declared…so you have to wait for 5 years to judge and write on performance of the government.

    And most importantly when you analyze the performance you should also tell what better steps are being taken and what negative steps are causing bad performance.Recommend

  • Goga
    Feb 26, 2014 - 12:02PM

    @Rizwan. Please appreciate that this is the 3rd time this student is attending the graduation course……Recommend

  • Malik
    Feb 26, 2014 - 12:47PM

    I must say again and again:

    Zardari and Nawaz are 2 UGLY sides of the same coin. Theey are taking turns in LOOTING Pakistan.
    It is not a time to detect faults. Pleas suggest actions now to get rid of this coin.
    PML-N has come to power with ‘ heavy mandate’– only to loot more ! Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Feb 26, 2014 - 1:35PM

    Why blame the General for the large army? Cut down the size of the army, introduce conscription and cut down the civilian Government of 100 plus and so on. The current Prime Minister is not a leader nor is the opposition of Imran Khan; Pakistan requires youth who are educated and trained to lead the multi-cultured people as a Nation. Like France Pakistan must set up a university for students who have the potential to lead.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • LunacyAsailam
    Feb 26, 2014 - 6:56PM

    Everyone knows the problem with Pakistan is Islam.That is: the educated classes. We in India have beaten it down and preserved the nation after soo much toil.Now, I understand Sindh and Punjab are not as Big as India and had easily succumbed to an invasion, whilst in the Subcontinent proper, there are soo many tribes who cannot be quashed easily, if some tribe is hit another ten will rise.Pakistan didnt have that option then. Time to address it now and move forward or else, disaster awaits. The only way? : demolish all mosques and start new.


  • Rex Minor
    Feb 26, 2014 - 7:21PM


    If the Indians would just spare women and not rpe them every 20 minutes(Indian official numbers) at least the tourist women would feel safer

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Nikki
    Feb 26, 2014 - 8:52PM

    Will you demolish all tempols in India?, Islam is not probem at all. The people those have lack of true undersatanding about Islam are peoblem everywhere even in India.Recommend

  • Alann
    Feb 26, 2014 - 9:13PM

    @Rex Minor: “If the Indians would just spare women and not rpe them every 20 minutes(Indian official numbers) at least the tourist women would feel safer”

    Yes, since you can’t argue with the other guy in a meaningful way to what he wrote, simply relate it to rape problem in India. But then, can’t really expect much from you guys – When trapped, refer to India’s “rape” or “poverty” or “BJP/RSS” or “Modi”. These are the fixed terms to use when there’s nothing good to say.
    Also as for your information, don’t even talk of tourism in India. Just for an example, Tourism only in Indian Kashmir is WAY higher than in whole nation of Pakistan. India’s tourism industry’s revenues overall are way higher than most of the “biggest firms” of Pakistan – actually bigger than even the annual budget of the country of Pakistan. So please spare us your concerns about tourism declining due to rapes.Recommend

  • Shahid
    Feb 26, 2014 - 9:43PM

    We need a military ruler for twenty years .During which all politics and political talk shows should be banned. After that democracy can be reintroduced slowly with new political parties and new faces.Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Feb 27, 2014 - 9:38PM

    Yes, since you can’t argue with the other guy in a meaningful way to what he wrote, simply relate it to rape problem in India. But then, can’t really expect much from you guys – When trapped, refer to India’s “rape” or “poverty” or “BJP/RSS” or “Modi”. These are the fixed terms to use when there’s nothing good to say.

    What do you want me to argue with Lunacy on? Islam, the destraction of mosques, or education class?

    Rex Minor


  • MAD
    Feb 28, 2014 - 2:11PM

    @Shahid: What makes you think the next Military ruler will fix everything? What happened after nine years of Musharraf? What happened after 11 years of Ayub Khan? and more importantly what happened after the 11 years of a certain Zia ul Haq? Lest you forget it was a military dictator who sowed the seeds of the predicament that we face today.


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