LAHORE - The shape of the future setup is now clear. The PML-N will form government at the centre and in Punjab and, in cooperation with the National Party and the Pakhtukhwa Milli Awami Party, in Balochistan.

The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf will rule Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Pakistan People’s Party Sindh. The governments of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are already with the PPP.

Smooth sailing depends on Mian Nawaz Sharif taking the non-PML-N governments along. But opposition for the sake of opposition would, in all probability, lead to a situation that was witnessed between 1988 and 1990 when Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister and Mr Sharif the Punjab chief minister. This was a period of worst confrontation between the prime minister and the Punjab chief executive.

Mr Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz will be in power in Punjab so the relationship between the centre and the Punjab will be ideal.

Shahbaz Sharif now recognises that Nawaz Sharif is not only his elder brother but also his leader. In the past, he harboured the ambition to become prime minister, and some reporters close to him projected him as most suitable for the top position. Authors of such reports were always encouraged by the “younger brother”, although not publicly.

Shahbaz is now convinced that he is ruling the country’s biggest province because of the popularity of his elder brother. And the elder brother also recognises that Shahbaz Sharif’s governance also played an important role in bringing the PML-N to power after a period of some 14 years.

The federal government’s relationship with the new Balochistan setup will certainly be very good. The National People’s Party, whose leader Dr Malik will be the chief minister, and PkMAP whose nominee will be the new governor, will extend full cooperation to the prime minister, without whose support both parties could not even think of getting the top offices.

The new chief minister and the governor (whoever to be nominated) will know that the PML-N had made a great political sacrifice to bring them to the fore. They also know that Mr Sharif was under tremendous pressure from his party leaders, including Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, that being the single largest party it was the PML-N’s right to have its nominee as chief minister.

This short-term loss faced by the PML-N will give the party long-term benefits in Balochistan. The nationalist leaders will have to change their thinking that Punjab dictates all decisions and does not give the smaller provinces their due rights.

Now it can be expected that the separatist tendencies in Balochistan will begin to weaken. And with the passage of time those who have foreign support and demand for their rights through the intercession of the United Nations will stand isolated. So far so good.

But the actual test of the new federal government will be in having equally cordial ties with the governments of KP and Sindh. KP is in the north and Sindh in the south. So, Mr Sharif will have to take the north and the south along. He will have to treat the leaders of these provinces like he treats his real brother Shahbaz.

The challenges facing the country are myriad. The federal and the provincial governments will have to pool their resources and energies to overcome the problems and get the nuclear Pakistan a rightful place in the comity of nations. 

Otherwise, as stated above, the bad old days can come back.

In 1988-90, the Punjab chief minister (Nawaz Sharif) had no time to receive the prime minister at the Lahore airport. And whenever Benazir Bhutto had a plan to visit Lahore, the chief minister would go to some far off place in the province to keep himself at a distance. And if the CM ever received the prime minister, it was the story of the day, flashed by all papers.

People around Mr Sharif, Hussain Haqqani being one of them, used to tell the industrialist-turned-politician that in confrontation lay his popularity and political aggrandizement.

To further squeeze the then prime minister, Mr Sharif also developed good ties with then Balochistan chief minister Nawab Akbar Bugti.

The two chief ministers missed no opportunity to embarrass Ms Benazir Bhutto.

Imagine for a while, what will happen if (prime minister) Nawaz Sharif wants to visit Peshawar or Karachi and the chief ministers of both the provinces refuse to receive him on one pretext or the other.  A similar situation will come to be seen if the AJK and G-B governments refused to give protocol to the new prime minister. These governments may find many justifications for their embarrassing attitude.

People still remember the day when Shahbaz Sharif as chief minister had repeatedly said that he does not recognize Mr Zardari as the president and had also refused to receive him at the airport.  Shahbaz did to Zardari what Nawaz did to Benazir.

It is high time to say goodbye to the past and adopt a fresh approach on fairness and cooperation.