Challenges galore for Shehbaz Sharif as he steps out – The New Indian Express
ISLAMABAD: Shehbaz Sharif emerges from the shadows to lead Pakistan
Shehbaz Sharif, who is set to become Pakistan’s new prime minister on Monday after leading the opposition alliance that ousted Imran Khan, is a tough administrator with a penchant for quoting revolutionary poetry.
Sharif is the younger brother of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was sacked and then imprisoned for corruption in 2017 and is currently in Britain after being released from prison two years later for medical treatment.
He is a seasoned politician in his own right, however, having served for years as chief minister of Punjab province, the power base of the Sharif family, and also chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) .
The 70-year-old jointly inherited the family steel business as a young man and was first elected to provincial office in 1988.
During his tenures as chief minister in the years that followed, he chaired a series of big-budget infrastructure projects, including Pakistan’s first metro bus service.
Officials were said to have been kept on their toes by workaholic Sharif’s habit of surprise visits to government offices, which he would inspect wearing a favorite safari suit and hat.
Yet critics say he did little to address the province’s core problems – including the need for civil service, health and agricultural reforms – and instead focused on vote-mobilizing projects, such as the distribution of laptops to students or the provision of subsidized taxis to the unemployed. .
– Released on bail –
Sharif has also been linked to bribery and bribery – the charges supporters say stem from a political vendetta by Khan.
In December 2019, the National Accountability Bureau seized nearly two dozen properties belonging to Sharif and his son Hamza, accusing them of money laundering.
He was arrested and detained in September 2020, but released around six months later on bail for an ongoing trial.
Unlike his older brother – whose relations with the country’s powerful military and his opponents were strained – Sharif is seen as a more flexible negotiator, able to compromise even with his enemies.
Pakistan’s military is the country’s most powerful institution and has ruled the nation for almost half of its history – and pulls the strings even when it’s not actually governing.
“I have always remained a strong supporter of effective coordination between Islamabad and Rawalpindi,” Sharif said, referring to the administrative capital and nearby military headquarters.
Sharif remains popular despite grim tabloid headlines about multiple marriages and a property portfolio that includes luxury apartments in London and Dubai.
Her current marriage, to author Tehmina Durrani, has largely ended the gossip.
Durrani, a feminist whose book “My Feudal Lord” brought her international acclaim, is also credited with improving Sharif’s respect for women.
Tough economic and security challenges await Sharif as he inherits a stagnant economy and escalating violence from the Pakistani Taliban and Balochistan separatists.
A poorly performing economy, growing militancy and fragile relations with former allies will be at the top of the next administration’s agenda.
The new government will have to avoid “multiple challenges in internal and external relations”, said Professor Jaffar Ahmed, director of the Institute for Historical and Social Research.
Here are the main questions ahead for the new Prime Minister of the country of 220 million people:
– The economy –
Crippling debt, runaway inflation and a weak currency have combined to keep growth stagnant over the past three years with little prospect of real improvement.
“We have no direction,” said Nadeem ul Haque, vice-chancellor of the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), a research organization in Islamabad.
“Radical political reforms are needed to turn the economy around.”
Inflation is soaring to over 12%, external debt stands at $130 billion – or 43% of GDP – and the rupee has fallen to 190 to the dollar, down nearly a third since the rise to power of Khan.
A $6 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescue package signed by Khan in 2019 was never fully implemented as the government reneged on agreements to reduce or end subsidies on certain goods and improve revenue and tax collection.
“The IMF package must continue,” said Ehsan Malik, head of the Pakistan Business Council.
On the positive side, remittances from Pakistan’s vast diaspora have never been higher, although cash flows have put Pakistan on the radar of the Financial Action Task Force, the global money laundering watchdog. money and the financing of terrorism.
“It’s a hanging sword that could fall on the country at any moment,” Jaffar said.
– Rise of militancy –
The Pakistani Taliban, a separate movement that shares common roots with the militants who seized power in Afghanistan last year, have stepped up their attacks in recent months.
They have threatened an offensive against government forces during Ramadan – which began on Sunday – and have been accused of a series of deadly attacks in the past.
Khan tried to bring the militants back into the mainstream, but talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants came to nothing last year before a month-long truce collapsed .
The Afghan Taliban say they won’t allow the country to be used as a base for foreign militants, but it remains to be seen if they will truly shut down the activities of thousands of Pakistani Islamists based there – or where they will. will go if they are chased away.
There are no easy solutions, even for the new government, experts say.
“The insurgency challenge would remain as important and crucial for the new government,” said political analyst Rafiullah Kakar.
In mineral-rich Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, separatists have for years been demanding more autonomy and a bigger share of the wealth, and the region is riven by sectarian strife and Islamist violence.
Kakar suggested a two-pronged approach – “confidence-building measures and political reconciliation” in Balochistan, but taking the gloves off the Taliban “once and for all”.
– Foreign relations –
Khan says the US orchestrated his withdrawal by conspiring with the opposition, and the next government will have to work hard to restore relations with Washington, a key arms supplier that thwarts Russia’s trade with India .
Khan angered the West by continuing his visit to Moscow on the day Russia invaded Ukraine, and was also one of the few world leaders to attend the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing when others boycotted to protest China’s human rights record.
Yet army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa allayed some fears last weekend by saying good relations with the United States remain a priority for Pakistan – and that the military wields influence. considerable, regardless of the civil administration in power.
“The new government…must make huge efforts to repair the damage,” said Tauseef Ahmed Khan, political analyst and journalism professor.