History repeats itself in Pakistan

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History repeats itself in Pakistan

Friday, 16 February 2024 | KS TOMAR

History repeats itself in Pakistan

Shehbaz Sharif emerges as the ‘selected’ PM candidate amidst elections scripted by the military to ensure PML-N's success, echoing past patterns

As per the amended version of the famous quote of American humorist and writer, Mark Twain history repeats itself but, at times in Rhymes, holds true in a stereotyped manner to the outcome of polls in Pakistan which is evident from the decks cleared for

Shahbaz Sharif to become prime minister of Pakistan and the army has executed full proof strategy through the process of selection”.

The results of the 2024 general elections in Pakistan had been a novella or saga scripted by the super-powerful army to ensure the success of Nawaz Sharif’s party, PML-N which is identical to the previous elections held in 2018 to enthrone Imran Khan in the post of prime minister of Pakistan. Owing to this predominant factor of supremacy of the army and ‘mindset of people”, none will question the “selection” of Shehbhaz in this country which has got tradition and history of being ruled by the army indirectly by proxy for decades and directly for 33 years ranging from 1958-1971,1977-1988 and 1999 to 2008).

It was also an illusion that democracy was restored for the rest of the period as the military had a hundred per cent dominance in domestic and international affairs as ‘selected prime ministers’ always acted as symbolic public figures. Now the cat is out of the bag and the outcome of the polls in Pakistan is in consonance with the expectations and estimation of the entire world besides the people of this beleaguered country.

Unexpected Drama Unfolds: Amidst the volatile and uncertain political scenario, in a surprise move, three-time PM, Nawaz Sharif has nominated his younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif for the post of PM which will enable him to rule by “Proxy” and confirm the post of chief minister of Punjab for his daughter, Maryam Nawaz. Experts say that Nawaz has tried to kill two birds with one stone thereby keeping the scope of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s chances to join the government as Bilawal Bhutto chairman of the party has declared to support the PML-N government from outside. Bilawal may bargain with PML-N to nominate his father, Asif Ali Zardari for the post of the president which may lead to a change of equations.2nd, it will pave the way for the rehabilitation of his daughter Maryam and PML-N Information Secretary as CM of the most important province, Punjab. The coalition government will comprise various parties including PML-N, PPP, MQM, PML-Q, BAP etc. which will have a strength of 152 as against the required tally of 133 in the house of 265 which may go up to 169 after the addition of nominated members.

Ties with India to improve: Nawaz will be in the driver's seat and he may make concerted efforts to improve the relations with neighbours including India which was mentioned by him in his victory speech. A cursory look at Indian PM, Narender Modi's attempts to have cordial relations with Pakistan shows that he had attempted to normalize the relations when he made a sudden trip to Lahore on Dec 25, 2015 and wished happy birthday to Pakistan EX PM Nawaz who turned 66. Prior to it, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited Pakistan in 2004 who will be credited for bringing a thaw in relations with Islamabad.

As per the principle of diplomacy, dialogue must continue even if enmity governs the ties between two nations. India may resume the talks if Pakistan shows sincerity and comes out of Kashmir phobia. Experts are unanimous over the attitude of Chinese President Xi Jinping who is having animosity towards democratic set up whereas the United States will feel ease at the continuation of democracy in Pakistan. Modi even attended the marriage reception of Nawaz’s granddaughter, Merun Nisa in Dec 2015 at Jati Umrah outside Lahore but the army disapproved of these initiatives and hence sabotaged the same.

In this backdrop, the situation is different now as the army and Nawaz seem to be on the same page which may yield positive results. Army’s ISI wing will have to shed its' policy to support terrorists in indulging in violence in Kashmir. Nawaz is expected to come out of Kashmir's phobia and focus on economic issues which can act as guiding principles to his brother, Shabaz.

Shebhaz and Asim duo will yell at the US administration. Imran Khan will be remembered for directly accusing America of ensuring his defeat in Parliament in April 2022 which brought Shahbaz Sharif to power. Imran had quoted a secret diplomatic cable to prove his allegation which was at variance with the stand of the army. Imran also took cudgels against the powerful army which cost him the PM chair especially when he won the election with the help of the military.

The track record shows that the US administration always had a close relationship with the Pakistan army which will be true to the current set-up also. Army will fully support Shehbaz to improve ties with the US which may help Pakistan to get more financial assistance from the IMF. Army Chief, General Asim had visited the US to lobby for getting a financial bailout package from the IMF. Army had been instrumental in the installation of Shahbaz after orchestrating the downfall of Imran in 2018 which witnessed cordial relations between ex-PM and army chief, Asim Munir. Nawaz will be the guiding force to cement the ties with the army and ensure the success of the coalition government.

Unequal Playing Field: It is a paradox and none will doubt that the present elections in Pakistan were a reflection of an unequal playing field especially when Imran Khan, a strong contender and popular leader was eliminated from the electoral process under a well-planned conspiracy. Imran’s loyalists say that the army played a predominant role in giving the PM chair to Nawaz Sharif on the plate who has preferred to rule by proxy. Imran was disqualified and convicted in several cases to put him in jail which made his party, PTI, rudderless. The election commission snatched its symbol of Bat to put it in a disadvantageous position.

Analysts opine that Pakistan is poised for another spell of pain, mess and chaos as Imran’s supporters have won in big numbers and are bound to create problems for the Shahbaz government.

They may continue their tirade against the army and demand the release of their leader from jail. India should not expect some tangible result from such an unstable and fragile government though Ex-PM Nawaz and the army are on the same page hence there are chances of change in dynamics in diplomacy but let us wait and watch.

(The writer is a political analyst and has six years experience of in foreign posting in a neighbouring country; views are personal)

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