Pakistan: 18 Months of Uncertainty Ahead


While the “enfant terrible,” so to say of Pakistan politics, Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI), Mr. Imran Khan has been ousted from the chair of the Prime Minister through a No-Confidence Motion in the National Assembly for the first time in the political history of the country, there is unlikely to be stability ahead until the next elections are held and a popularly elected government take office in Islamabad.


In normal course these are due in July next year, unless the newly installed coalition government led by Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) coalition President Mian Shahbaz Sharif collapses due to internal contradictions.


The elections to be held some time in July 2023 must be seen and accepted as free and fair. The last two held in 2013 and 2018 were not. Thus the opposition parties during these periods with Mr Imran Khan himself post 2013 took to the streets to garner support to bring down the elected Government led by PMLN Supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif. Post 2018 the opposition parties did the same to the PTI and Mr Khan launching the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) which was the basis on which the opposition formed an alliance and moved the no-confidence motion.


The street is also where the power is in Pakistan and Mr Imran Khan has returned to the favour having held multiple rallies in the country after ouster from power and declaring a march to Islamabad in the end of May. Khan’s brand of politics where he had threatened when in power that he would be worse in the opposition is the first factor of instability and outlined below.


Imran’s Brand of Politics


Mr Khan and the PTI have adopted tactics taking a leaf out of the books of former United States President Donald Trump, blocking legitimate assumption of power to his successor Mr Shahbaz Sharif to the extent that even the President Dr Arif Alvi who owes allegiance to the PTI having been nominated by the Party refused to administer oath to Mr Sharif as well as his cabinet members. It would be recalled that Mr Trump refused to acknowledge the verdict of the electorate and acknowledge Mr Joe Biden’s success leading to an impasse that stretched on to the courts.


Now raking up conspiracy theories, the “cablegate,” and rallies in support of what he claims as ouster by a foreign conspiracy by the United States in league with the, “corrupt,” parties to take over power, Khan is not likely to settle down so easily in the opposition. While his misdemeanours including allegations of having sold the gifts that he received as the Prime Minister are piling up, Mr Khan remains unmoved.


Blocking Mr Hamza Sharif, son of Shahbaz Sharif from taking over as the Chief Minister of Punjab after having been elected by the majority is another move that the PTI has resorted

to.


Economy and Anti Incumbency


Facing Imran’s antics the Prime Minister Mr Shahbaz Sharif has exercised a calm composure to meet the more substantial challenges faced by his Government mainly economy and security.


For Mr Sharif and his Party, PML N as well as the coalition overcoming anti-incumbency will remain a major challenge ahead of the elections the machinations for which will commence anytime by October, by when the Elections Commission of Pakistan is expected to complete the exercise for Delimitation post a census. The economy remains the main challenge ahead – a perennial crisis in Pakistan no doubt but one that has reached criticality and a factor that contributed to the downfall of the PTI government.


Mr Sharif has travelled to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to gain a cushion even as the Extended Funding Facility (EFF) by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is renegotiated. This would also imply the removal of subsidy on fuel, free-floating Pakistan Rupee, which may prove to be a bitter pill for the Government raising public rancour. In the most recent report Asian Development Bank (ADB) forecast for GDP growth of Pakistan is 4 per cent with inflation expected to spike in the current fiscal year.


With the double whammy of recovery from COVID 19 and the war in Ukraine, Mr Shahbaz Sharif’s task is cut out.


Governance and Charisma


Shahbaz Sharif is well known for his governance capabilities demonstrated as the Chief Minister of Punjab – Pakistan’s largest province for three tenures. Now he will have to muster the same at the national level. Similarly his son Mr Hamza needs to do an encore in Punjab where he has assumed office for the first time.


Importantly, the father and son duo lack the charisma to instantly connect with the people known to be the forte of his elder brother Nawaz and his daughter Maryam Sharif. Thus dependence on them for rallying the people at large will continued.


Stigma of Corruption


Mr Imran Khan is expected to constantly harp on the corruption of the coalition parties which is well established, Shahbaz will have to ensure that the skeletons in and out of the cupboard are managed as the judiciary has already summoned him as well as Hamza opening charges that were in suspension for now. This Damocles Sword is expected to hang on the PML N led coalition government.


The return of Nawaz Sharif ostensibly undergoing treatment in London may provide greater grist to Imran’s mill of corrupts returning to power.


Coalition Politics


Managing the coalition will remain a challenge even though the Government has a majority with 172 members from multiple parties led by the PML N with 84 members. The PTI continues to be the largest party with 155 members. The Baloch Parties BAP and BNP and the MQM P are weak members of the coalition as local issues and power can draw them away and keep the Government on the tenterhooks.


Intra PML N Tensions


On the other hand, there could be some disconcert within the PML N if supporters of Mr. Nawaz Sharif feel sidelined.


Moreover, the elder brother will be calling the shots from London or if and when he returns to Pakistan. Shahbaz


Security


Internal security in Pakistan has deteriorated in 2022 as is evident from a survey of incidents and fatalities. A resurgent Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Baloch militant groups are posing a major challenge ensconced in the favourable environment of sanctuaries provided in Afghanistan with Taliban in power in Kabul.


While this will remain mostly a problem for management by the Army, if there is further deterioration, such as the recent attack on Chinese teachers in Karachi, the Government will be held accountable.


Institutional Support


Pakistan Army [and the ISI] and the Supreme Court of Pakistan remain the ultimate arbitrators of power especially when they act in tandem.


The Army is behind Mr Shahbaz Sharif and has always preferred the younger of the two Sharif brothers. The failed experiment of the so-called “hybrid,” arrangement with Imran may have led to some lessons being learnt in Rawalpindi the GHQ.


The Supreme Court of Pakistan is prone to act arbitrarily as was evident in the decision against the deposition of Mr Nawaz Sharif on the very controversial grounds of, “Sadiq and Ameen,” – honest and righteous in July 2017. How the Supreme Court and lower courts react to the multiple cases of corruption that continue to stain those now in power remains to be seen?


Tenure of Army Chief


General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Army Chief is due to finally retire in November after a six year tenure including a three year extension.


The race for arguably the most powerful appointment in Pakistan is likely to hot up in a couple of months. Lt General Faez Hameed a favourite of former Prime Minister Imran Khan is the dark horse even though he will not be the senior-most when Bajwa retires.


Public lobbying including use of social media is also expected to muddy the waters. Thus how this issue progresses and what challenges are posed to the Government remains to be seen even though personalities do not matter as much as the Army is known to act as a collegiate of the top leaders – the Corps Commanders.


Wither relations with Neighbours?


On the external relations front, as well the Shahbaz Sharif government is expected to face challenges, particularly with the neighbours – India, Afghanistan and China.


India is unlikely to make any moves for substantial reconciliation of a relationship that is broken now for almost half a decade and may await till the formation of a new government in Pakistan after the elections in July – August 2023. However, Mr Shahbaz Sharif requires to open up trade with India and how this factor works with the stringent position adopted on Jammu and Kashmir remains to be seen?


Afghanistan with the Taliban showing nascent ambitions of spreading the Sharia in Pakistan will remain a challenge with a deterioration of the security and economy in that country like to have a fallout Eastwards.


China is expected to continue to demand greater security with attacks targeting Chinese nationals of concern to Beijing, amongst other factors.


Conclusion


There is always the X Factor in Pakistan that can emerge as a Frankenstein, such as the Tehreek Laibak Pakistan (TLP).


While the Shahbaz Sharif government presently appears to be well equipped with multiple challenges outlined above, uncertainty is expected to continue.


Note - Image Courtesy Wikipedia

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