Main issues facing the next leader of Pakistan
Whoever becomes Pakistan’s next prime minister after the National Assembly dissolves on Sunday will face a series of challenges.
The president dissolved the assembly just hours after the vice president refused to accept a motion of no confidence that would likely have seen Prime Minister Imran Khan thrown out of office, meaning the country will go to the polls in the 90 days.
A poorly performing economy, rising militancy and fragile relations with former allies will be at the top of the agenda of the next administration, which will be formed after elections due to be held within three months.
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,” he said.
Inflation is rising to over 12%, external debt stands at $130 billion – or 43% of GDP – and the rupee has fallen to 185 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 United States tried to orchestrate his withdrawal by conspiring with the opposition, and that the next government will have to work hard to restore relations with Washington, a key arms supplier who opposes the trade in nuclear weapons. Russia 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 over the weekend by saying good relations with the United States remain a priority for Pakistan – and that the army wields considerable influence. , 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.