After spending four years in office, Imran Khan was clean bowled after midnight on April 10th. The President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), became the 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan unopposed after the unceremonious ouster of Imran Khan, and after his opponent, Shah Mehmood Qureshi announced on the floor of the House that his party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf will shun the Prime Minister polls and staged a walk-out from the Assembly.
Sharif assumed the office at a critical stage, inheriting an economic depletion, galloping inflation, rising militancy, crippling debt and disconcerting foreign relations, and political polarization on the domestic front. The premier will have to manage this plethora of challenges while standing atop a fragile alliance of 11 party groups called the Pakistan Democratic Movement that joined hands for the common objective of removing Khan from power.
One of the major underperformances of the PTI government was that despite being in power for three years it failed to bring about promised change, especially those concerning the economy, good governance, refund of black money, eradicating corruption, accountability, and providing one crore jobs. The Khan government was called into question for arbitrary use of power – for eluding Parliament on major policy issues and governing through presidential ordinances instead. The PTI’s failure to lead the country in an effective manner and its failure to build political coordination with the opposition resulted in major governance issues, especially in Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab.
In that regard, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif must assign a priority to what he can do best: improving governance. He is known as a diligent administrator and served as the Chief Minister of Punjab. During his three terms as Chief Minister of Pakistan, he earned the reputation of a “doer”. However, his ascension as a Prime Minister in the current political environment will present some very different challenges. As Chief Minister of Punjab, Sharif had the backing of the central government, whereas, as a Prime Minister of Pakistan, he will have to keep the flock together of 11 political parties for his sustenance, before each move – all the parties with different agendas, who know well that their alliance is impermanent and that they will contest against one another in next Pakistani general election.
Sharif is known for his workaholic nature. He kept his nose to the grindstone for infrastructural development in Punjab province during his tenure as CM Punjab. But now, as a PM, he cannot replicate everything he did in Punjab because the center needs more inclusive policies and a split or a division between parties will strengthen PTI’s narrative against the government.
After taking the office, Sharif’s government announced some foreign policy objectives; that will promote shared goals of security and regional peace. In a limited time of one year as a PM, Sharif’s key priority will be fixing the ties with other countries, rather than scoring any breakthroughs.
The premier of the world’s fifth-most populous country, must boost the ties between Beijing and Islamabad and breathe new life into Pak-China relations. However, the US-China strategic rivalry will also pressure Pakistan to balance the two great powers.
The new government is also facing a stuttering economy and needs to make a way forward out of these troubles and this is the key expectation from the new government.
The coming year will be an intense period in Pakistani politics, as the PTI to the utmost will try to undermine the Sharif government and its policy initiatives.
With new elections scheduled to occur in 2023, the Sharif government must avoid confrontation with the opposition because all is not rosy for the newly-elected PM. For a person who is known to take challenges head-on, there is no time to lose. However, this is increasingly onerous, especially given the time limit, and the pressure to perform better and accomplish a lot of things than the previous government.
(The writer hails from Rawalpindi and is working at Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University, Islamabad. She can be reached at [email protected])