Nawaz Sharif’s strategic move or military script?

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Nawaz Sharif’s strategic move or military script?

Thursday, 29 February 2024 | KS Tomar

Nawaz Sharif’s strategic move or military script?

Nawaz’s decision to step aside from the race for premiership in Pakistan and nominate his brother Shehbaz instead has sparked intense debate

A lively and geo-political issue is being debated worldwide, especially in Pakistan which pertains to the ‘mysterious’ decision of three-time prime minister, Nawaz Sharif to Suo moto opt out of the race for premiership and subsequently nominate his younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif for the top slot though he was a favourite of powerful military, obviously current army chief, Asim Munir, who had scripted the entire episode to enthrone him.

Foreign policy experts say that it was on the analogy of former PM, Imran Khan who was saddled in the chair due to the open patronage of Ex-Army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa but both fell apart owing to fighting for supremacy. It was a paradox and a typical case of a “servant” challenging the authority of the “Master” which may happen in this dispensation also but Nawaz as a “shadow PM” may not permit it as he has had the bitter experience of being ousted by the army from the post in 2018.

Analysts are convinced that owing to compelling circumstances, Ex PM, Nawaz played his cards well hence the choice fell on his brother which will also ensure the continuity of “Family Rule” in Pakistan. Yet, another addition will be Maryam Nawaz who is poised to become chief minister of the most important province of Punjab.

2nd, the army had meticulously planned to keep Imran Khan out of the political process hence more than 150 cases were registered against him by the previous regime and courts handed him the punishment in three cases which exceeded 24 years.

3rd, due to Imran’s tirade against the army, Nawaz was brought to Pakistan last year from self-exile in London which preceded the Supreme Court’s decision in 2018 to sentence him to ten -years imprisonment and a fine of $10.6 million in a corruption case related to Panama papers of illegal properties abroad. He was disqualified and hence fled to London to fight his battle. Nawaz’s brother Shahbaz headed the government in Pakistan which ensured the adoption of a bill in parliament on June 25, 2023, which limited the lifetime disqualification of lawmakers to 5 years.

It was meant to pave the way for the return of his elder brother to resume his political activities in Pakistan.4th, Nawaz’s critics allege that the stage was set for “mass scale rigging” to help him to become PM but the game plan went haywire as independents supported by Imran from jail won a majority of the seats and Nawaz’s party PML-N could not get even simple majority which shattered the dream of Nawaz who was averse to heading a minority government.

5th, Nawaz nominated Shehbaz because he had experience in heading coalition governments and was a flexible politician who could take partners along .6th, Nawaz would have found it difficult in parliament as Imran’s loyalists were ready with a lot of ammunition to put him on the mat on corruption whereas Shehbaz is better placed so far. Finally, Nawaz and the army chief are on the same page which may help the new government to appease the sentiments and fulfil the aspirations of the people who are facing the problem of survival.

It will be the most difficult task of the Shehbaz government to implement the harsh preconditions of IMF which had released USD 710 million second tranche of a USD 3 billion loan to the cash-strapped country to stabilize its debt-ridden economy. Shehbaz ’s previous government had successfully negotiated with the IMF to procure the “bailout Package” which needs to be clinched. The IMF had saved Pakistan from economic collapse as Pakistan’s reserves stood at $7.8 billion as of Nov. 18, 2023, barely enough to cover imports for a month.

The people are reeling under inflation which has touched to the level of 30% and prices of essential commodities are beyond the capacity of consumers. The floods had caused losses of billions and thousands of lives were lost hence the new PM will have to take care of rehabilitation tasks which are in disarray.

The floods had caused tremendous losses of USD 3.3. trillion in June-October,2022 besides killing 1839 people which must be uppermost in the priorities of the new government as victims are still craving relief and rehabilitation tasks which seem to be in disarray.

China has treaded cautiously and did not touch the sensitive issue of rigging whereas the United States and EU demanded an investigation into the allegations. China has come to the rescue of Pakistan several times but the cost has been beyond the imagination of this poor country. China's debt policy has entrapped Pakistan which has procured a heavy loan and the Chinese investment has risen $65 billion in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)by 2022.

China has already acquired control of Gwadar Port on 16 May 2013 which may be retained instead of a lease guarantee in future.

Originally valued at $46 billion, the value of China Pakistan Economic Corridor had been worth $62 billion as of 2020. India and the US are opposed to BRI hence Nawaz will have to tread cautiously to keep China in check to save his country from the debt trap policy.

China will be looking for the security protection of its projects in Pakistan hence it may develop cordial relations with the Shehbaz government. Experts say that the United States wanted to see the back of Imran who had accused it of conspiring with the army to oust him from power. It has got history of having direct ties with army generals hence it may find it easy to deal with the new government. India can expect Nawaz to influence Shehbaz to take the initiative to start dialogue with India which has already created its space in the world arena and economic ties can help the beleaguered people of this poor country. 

The new coalition government is bound to be weak hence delivery expectations on domestic and international fronts must be based on logical conclusions and limitations of new dispensation in Pakistan.

(The writer is a journalist and political analyst, views are personal)

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