LAHORE - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s 55-minute televised address to the nation on Monday evening contained nothing new and was, in fact, encapsulation of all statements made by him after returning to power for a third time in June.
The premier (re)counted all major problems facing the country and repeated the strategies the government has already identified to grapple with them. Some important issues were left out of the speech, probably intentionally.
If there was at all anything new in the address it was renewed invitation for talks to militants and extremists who have killed thousands of innocent people through terrorist activities over the past years.
The offer was important as it was made hours after the prime minister’s meeting with Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who has been trying to defeat the militants militarily.
Like his interior minister who had said the same thing a few days ago, the prime minister said talks and the use of state power were the two means by which the menace of terrorism could be handled. “But I want no more killings”, he said, implying that he would prefer talks to any other option.
But while reiterating the offer Mr Sharif perhaps forgot that he had set afoot plans for an all-parties conference precisely on the same subject. And if his all-wise government knows how to deal with the problem, what input it can expect from the parties that it wants to hold consultations with. It is also a serious matter for the heads of parties having representation in parliament which will be participating in the proposed APC, whether there is really any need left for the proposed moot, which was initially planned for July 22 but is not visible on political radars to date.
Analysts doubt whether the government really knows the militants it wants to hold talks with. There was a time when Imran Khan also supported talks with these people. But as he studied the matter he came to know that there are over two dozen groups operating under the name of Taliban and are involved in killings. The PTI chief doesn’t know which group should be approached for talks and why.
Maybe, the government has any idea about the ‘interlocutors’ from the other side; otherwise what the prime minister said would be deemed as a ‘to whom it may concern’ kind of invitation, which is unlikely to elicit any positive response.
As for the causes of energy crisis and corruption that destroyed all important state institutions, the nation already had a fair idea about them because of the ruling party’s repeated statements on these subjects. It was being expected that the prime minister would come out with some concrete decision for accountability of those responsible for wasting Rs2,500 billion on these institutions during the past five years and causing Rs480 billion in circular debt, which led to crippling energy shortages. But there was no mention of such a plan.
The institution which is supposed to take action against the corrupt – National Accountability Bureau – has been “headless” for the past several months, and the government has no urgency to complete composition of the watchdog. (The opposition PPP will, understandably, use delaying tactics in the selection of the NAB chairman to save many of its leaders facing corruption charges from any legal action).
So, the mere allegations that the previous government was responsible for all problems facing the country at present would serve no purpose unless the government has a plan to take them to task.
The prime minister also did not say a word about the local government elections, which the Supreme Court wants without a delay. The apex court has repeatedly stated that the absence of the lowest tier of government is responsible for lawlessness in various parts of the country. But the prime minister did not assure the court that he would direct the provincial governments of Punjab and Balochistan (which are run exclusively by or through partnership of PML-N) to comply with the judicial orders.
Regrettably, Punjab is least interested in holding these elections as the prime minister’s younger brother enjoys all powers of this tier of government. The Punjab Assembly is in a position to pass the relevant legislation in just one minute because of its absolute majority, but it is deliberately delaying it.
The reluctance of the Punjab and Balochistan governments to comply with the orders of the Supreme Court provides a justification to other provinces, being ruled by PPP and PTI, for going slow.
The prime minister dangled incentives for the youth and the homeless, but preferred to not give all details. He told the youth that he has a plan in mind which will enable them to stand on their own feet by creating jobs for themselves. And he told the homeless and the low-paid that they would be provided with houses. But to get details, these people will have to wait for some more time. They should not lose patience and bear in mind that there are many in the ruling family who need jobs and houses more urgently. After all, charity begins at home!