“Welcome to Pakistan,’’ he says, his voice full of warmth, but Mian Nawaz Sharif, the large-hearted Punjabi, all set to be sworn-in as the Prime Minister tomorrow for a record third time, is also sounding tired. “There are so many challenges and the work is endless,’’ he responds when queried about the third beginning.
The 62-year-old who will take oath as the Prime Minister of Pakistan at 5.30 pm (IST) on Wednesday is acutely conscious of the road ahead. The expectations are scary and the issues at hand – terrorism, price rise, unavailability of gas and 12 to 14 hour power cuts – are all very complex.
He’s won the votes for his party, but the real test starts in less than 24 hours from now. “Each issue involves a trek up Mount Everest,’’ says an aide, adding, “Mian Sahab is being earnest and making it clear that he has no magic wand.”
Pakistan’s TV channels — as free and fierce as their Indian counterparts — are hosting show after show and asking when the votes can possibly turn into voltage. In one such show, columnist Najam Sethi, who was also the care-taker head of Punjab province, is candid, “The power crisis threw Benazir Bhutto’s PPP out of office and now Nawaz Sharif’s government will have to take the unpopular decision of increasing petrol and electricity prices.”
There will be no moment for respite as he is already being challenged on another front – terrorism. The killing of a newly- elected member of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s national assembly on Monday only came as a bloody reminder.
Is it possible to negotiate peace with the Taliban? Will talking peace antagonise the Army? Any talk of the Army leads to another tricky question — what is the right balance between army-civilian equations?
The question most troubling for the Sharif government is: what can it possibly do with General Pervez Musharraf, the former army chief who had deposed Sharif in 1999, soon after the Kargil war.
In past interviews with me – before he rode to the current victory – Sharif has been candid and often shown his hurt and anger. Among the stories he likes telling is of the manner in which he was handcuffed and imprisoned. He once narrated one in which he displayed a deep, personal grievance – of how Musharraf did not let him come to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia where he was forced into exile, to attend the last rites of his father.
Will Sharif now be a statesman and disguise his hurt and let the law take its course or will the Punjabi businessman let vendetta creep in. If he does, will the Army take kindly to it, given that they see Musharraf as one of their own men?
Several questions and intrigues will accompany Sharif to the President’s House tomorrow, when he traces his steps towards a tricky third innings.