Pakistani press attached high hopes with the new prime minister. According to Dawn newspaper comment, with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari ostensibly clearing the nomination of the PPP's candidate for the coveted post, the way has been cleared for Yusuf Raza Gilani to take the oath of office on Tuesday as Pakistan's 25th prime minister. A party loyalist who passed years in jail while on trial for charges which a court later found bogus, Gilani acquires the rare distinction of becoming the first PPP prime minister who is not a Bhutto. Tomorrow's vote is a formality, but with the MQM joining the PPP-PML-N coalition, Gilani is likely to get more votes than Ms Fehmida Mirza did when she was elected Speaker with a two-thirds majority. While the uncertainty about the prime minister's office is behind us, one cannot but notice the fissures in the PPP and question the leadership's decision-making process, marked as it has been by vacillation and diffidence. The Amin Fahim episode serves to highlight the absence of a well-oiled consultative mechanism, and one is appalled that the PPP Central Executive Committee, which includes some stalwarts since the ZAB days, needed a 19-year-old to sell its decision to the party rank and file. If this is the beginning of the new, democratic era, one wonders how things will go when the PPP government is finally in the saddle and goes about meeting the gargantuan challenges facing the nation.
A list of priorities for the Gilani government is not difficult to draw. The economy and the menace of terrorism overshadow all other issues, including the nightmarish power crisis. The prices have registered an overall increase, oil prices have been raised twice in a fortnight, and the rate of food inflation is tormenting the people. Yet no crash programme was devised to give some interim relief to the pauperised people, because crisis after crisis - beginning with the sacking of the Chief Justice last March - seemed to have paralysed the government machinery. A major task before the new government will, therefore, be to restore the nation's confidence in the administration's ability to look after the people's welfare and work with speed to ameliorate the citizen's hardships.
Religious extremism and terrorism are destroying the very fabric of our society. Yet, in spite of our role in the war on terror as a much-flaunted 'front-line state', our people are less safe than they were seven years ago. While campaigning, the PPP and the PML-N had both pledged to continue the fight against terrorism. But the issue is far more complex than the rhetoric would have us believe. The frequency of suicide bombings has increased, and terrorists are striking deep into sensitive, no-go areas. Reliance on force alone is not going to deliver. Which means the new government has to develop a new policy based on national consensus to deflate the terrorists and make Fata part of the national mainstream. We hope the country will have a prime minister empowered to tackle the challenges, rather than a puppet on a string with real authority lying elsewhere in the party hierarchy.