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Despite stumbling blocks, Sharif roars the loudest

india Updated: May 09, 2013 23:10 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad

The tigress mascot of the Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N party, Moti, died earlier this week from heat, giving the party’s office-bearers last-minute jitters ahead of Saturday’s elections. The tigress is Sharif’s party symbol.

“The tigress’ death may be a bad omen for Nawaz Sharif,” commented TV show host Mubashir Luqman, who predicts that this time round the PML-N party may not repeat its good showing in Punjab province as it had done in 2008.

Despite these misgivings, as electoral activities came to an end in Pakistan on Thursday, Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (N) emerged as the most-favoured prime ministerial candidate.

Political analysts say that Sharif’s party may emerge as the winner but by what margin it wins in Punjab will decide whether he will be able to form a government at the center. In Pakistan’s electoral college, Punjab holds 50% of the seats for parliament. The biggest challenge for Sharif’s party comes from Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which hopes to catch the 30 million voters out of a total of 86 million, of which about half are in Punjab.

But there are other challenges too. While his party fights for seats, Sharif continues to be at loggerheads with the military high command over the party’s links with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other militant and extremist parties.

In a speech last week, army chief General Kayani warned those political actors who were proposing dialogues with groups that did not recognise the country’s constitution and justified bloodshed. But in reply, Sharif said that deciding on policies was the job of the elected prime minister and not the army chief. Such an open challenge to an army chief is unusual in Pakistan, that too from a prime ministerial aspirant.

Sharif claims that his party does not have any direct links with the TTP but he is open to dialogue with all militant parties instead of military action. For its part, the TTP has said that he is one of the three prominent persons who they can trust as intermediaries to hold a dialogue with the military.

Election observers predict that Sharif’s party may have to go for an electoral alliance, possibly even with President Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party. It is usually the army that helps cobble together such alliances in Pakistan and Sharif’s prickly relationship with the generals may work to his disadvantage.

Despite all these stumbling blocks, Sharif is confident of a victory. So far, he has made all the right noises.

Not only is he talking about fixing the country’s economy and poor law and order situation but also bettering relations with neighbours, primarily India and cracking down on those who use Pakistan as a base for their terrorist activities.