Challenges galore for the new govt in Pakistan : The Tribune India

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Challenges galore for the new govt in Pakistan

The gap between the economies of the two nations continues to widen as the Indian economy gets more global traction.

Challenges galore for the new govt in Pakistan

BACK AT THE HELM: PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif is set to become the Pakistan Prime Minister in the backdrop of heightened political polarisation after the parliamentary elections. Reuters

Luv Puri

Journalist and Author

PAKISTAN Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of former premier Nawaz Sharif, is set to become the new Prime Minister in the backdrop of heightened political polarisation after the parliamentary elections. The coalition of six parties — the PML-N, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, PML-Q, Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party and the Balochistan Awami Party — is on course to form the government.

With the exception of a few elections, serious questions have invariably been raised about the legitimacy of the electoral process in Pakistan as the military has repeatedly interfered to favour one party or the other. The same can be said about the recent elections as a level playing field was denied to the former Prime Minister Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and the party was clearly at the receiving end of the establishment’s wrath. Imran faces around 170 cases and he has been convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in a few of them. Many PTI leaders were either put behind bars on seemingly trumped-up charges or forced to say goodbye to politics. The fact that Imran-allied independents got more seats than the PML(N) or the PPP shows that overt and covert attempts to remove him from the electoral scene were successful only to a limited extent.

Much of the credit for this strong electoral show by Imran’s loyalists goes to the smart use of social media by the PTI’s supporters, including in the diaspora. And there is no let-up in the social media counter-offensive by the PTI as it has termed the leaders of the coalition ‘mandate thieves’. The PTI has reacted strongly to the post-poll developments: “Pakistan is being put on the road to further destabilisation. The decision to induct a bunch of criminals (to form the government), who have been rejected by the people, reflects a myopic view of the grave challenges the country is beset with.” The party’s central information secretary, Raoof Hasan, said the current situation was “striking at the very essence of democratic principles and norms” and reflected “disdain for the national interests and the welfare of its people”.

The ability of the establishment — another name for the military — to control the narrative is limited, with more than 64 per cent of Pakistan’s population below the age of 30 years. While social media has its own problems and can be manipulated, particularly by the resourceful, the Pakistan elections show that it can also be a weapon of the weak and vulnerable. The official narrative was challenged, and the cadre mobilised by the PTI social media team with campaigns to rally support for independents who were Imran’s supporters, even though the PTI was banned.

Both PML(N) and PPP, who have been victims of the military establishment in different contexts, will know that its support is not risk-free. This tactical support of the military for them gives them little manoeuvrability on key foreign policy or national security issues, particularly with respect to India.

At the same time, both parties have their strengths and complement each other in terms of governance. In terms of intellectual depth on policy issues, the PPP is better placed, even though its present electoral influence is limited to Sindh province. The party, when it was in power, gave a semblance of federal autonomy to the provinces by passing the comprehensive 18th amendment in 2010; and with this provision, the infamous 8th Amendment, which gave the President the power to dismiss any elected government, was removed. The PML(N), which combines capitalism with Islamist politics, remains pivotal in the context of the India-Pakistan dialogue because of its strong roots in central and eastern parts of the populous Punjab province.

Then PM Nawaz’s attempt to engage with India in 1999 and 2015-16 was scuttled because of the Kargil incursion by the Pakistani army and the Pathankot airbase terror attack, respectively. Past experience will continue to impact the government’s initiatives, even as thinking within the upper echelons of the Pakistani army will remain vital to determining the engagement with India.

The gap between the economies of India and Pakistan continues to widen as the Indian economy gets more and more global traction on account of its breadth, size and resilience. This has implications for Pakistan. This was illustrated by the admission by then Pakistani army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa that the Pakistani military didn’t have the resources to fight with India.

Connected with the issue of a dialogue with India is the ability and resolve of the new coalition to rein in transnational violent extremists — one of the main concerns of India. In October 2016, as per Dawn, then ISI Director General Gen Rizwan Akhtar was asked by then PM Nawaz and Shehbaz in a meeting that “military-led intelligence agencies are not to interfere if law enforcement acts against militant groups that are banned or until now considered off-limits for civilian action”. Progressively, the relations between Nawaz and Bajwa soured during that period as the Panama Papers case sealed the former’s fate and the Supreme Court disqualified him from holding public office for life.

Overall, apart from the perennial reality of a lack of civilian supremacy in Pakistan and its impact on national security and vital foreign policy issues, a strong and vocal opposition, particularly the youth, cannot be ignored by nations as they engage with the new government in Pakistan. 

#Nawaz Sharif #Pakistan #Shehbaz Sharif

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