Another comeback?

September 24, 2023

Is there more to Nawaz’s anticipated return than optics?

Another comeback?


he question in the minds of many today is: does Pakistan really need Nawaz Sharif, or any of the old, tried-and-tested politicians any longer? They had their chances and difficult innings. In fact, in the case of Nawaz Sharif, three troublesome stints. Does his return promise a radical change in the politics of the country? What is he promising to do better? Nothing. To be fair, though, there is not much he can promise since there is very little he controls.

This may sound pessimistic and alarmist but this is arguably how a majority of Pakistanis are thinking at this moment. Some people even wonder about the benefit of holding elections in such an environment. We claim to be a democracy but, let’s admit it, we are far from enjoying its benefits. A managed democracy always leaves much to be desired. We have yet to learn this lesson.

While the next general elections are not an opportunity to hit the reset button on our democracy, there is still room for a lot. Is it not time to get rid of personal fiefdoms and old stalwarts in national politics? An attempt was made in 2018 to manufacture a new face but, for many reasons, that experiment went horribly wrong.

Nawaz Sharif is now brimming with the hope of a return, although a bit dented by the mighty last stroke played by the outgoing chief justice. The restored NAB cases and others being heard by the courts will add to his challenges. There can only be two scenarios. One, that he is confident that the courts will give him respite now that Justice Umer Ata Bandial is not in charge; and two, that a secret deal has been reached with the establishment to facilitate his return.

But can he deliver a fourth time around? Nawaz Sharif is not getting younger and the world has been changing. His party’s favoured way of providing relief to the poor has resulted in an emptying of the treasury coffers. What can one expect his next government to do besides spending billions of rupees on communication infrastructure? However, things have changed drastically. The world has loved the experience of work from home imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Less roads and more communication are likely features of the future.

There is a need to create and generate more technological/ manufacturing ideas than ways of generating expensive electricity. The additional electricity is going to be used mostly by the domestic sector rather than by job-creating, revenue-generating factories. The statistics below, taken from the Pakistan Economic Survey 2021-2022, illustrates this point:

The PML-N was careless when it came to dealing with the establishment. Thrice they were kicked out. What is the guarantee that Nawaz Sharif will be lucky the fourth time?

Total electricity consumption (Jul-March 2021-2022): 89,361 GWh

Electricity consumption by sector (Jul-March 2021–2022):

Household: 47 percent

Commercial: 7 percent

Industrial: 28 percent

Agricultural: 9 percent

Others: 8 percent

Given the unhealthy mix, electricity will remain expensive for domestic consumers. We need the industrial and commercial sectors to bear the burden of using expensive power to generate revenue for themselves and subsidise poor domestic consumers.

The global semi-conductor chips manufacturing monopoly of Taiwan can be a great example. The country’s Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the largest chip manufacturer, providing 54 percent of the world’s chips. (Realising their vulnerability, the US and China have started establishing their own microcircuits or microchips manufacturing industries.)

The recent push for developing the country’s mineral resources is a good idea but not a huge long-term job creating venture. We can sell the minerals we have, but what do we do after that? Will we invest the money so earned in more durable projects or will it end up lining a few pockets? We need creative ideas to make Pakistan economically viable for generations to come. A knowledge-based economy is where we should look for a future. The PML-N has yet to come up with a credible roadmap for economic revival.

Sharifs, Bhuttos and the PTI have already been tried. Their biggest failures have been in dealing with the powerful establishment. While the PPP takes pride in completing a five-year term (2008-2013), its performance on the economic front was deficient. The PML-N was even more careless in dealing with the establishment. Thrice they were kicked out. What is the guarantee then that Nawaz Sharif will be lucky the fourth time? Does he have a new strategy to deal with the establishment?

It is hard today to predict who the PML-N candidate for the prime minister’s office is going to be. From what is common knowledge about Nawaz, Shahbaz and Maryam, the former is likely to be first choice. Having portrayed him as a mighty lion, the party needs him. Shahbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, on the other hand, have never been in full control.

Nawaz Sharif is making his preparations for yet another triumphant return. His daughter and party leaders are planning to rally a million followers to turn up at Lahore. But will those joining the rally that day also vote for him?

The writer, a journalist for 33 years, has been an editor at the BBC in Pakistan for over two decades. Currently, he is the managing editor at Independent Urdu

Another comeback?