WITH the new government struggling to make crucial decisions independently, Pakistan’s ‘parallel governance system’ seems to have been reactivated in a bid to restore order. The capital has recently been abuzz with speculation over an interim set-up being ushered in ahead of an early election.
The rumour mill started churning after former finance ministers Dr Hafeez Shaikh and Shaukat Tarin, as well as former State Bank governor Reza Baqir — all of whom served during the PTI government — and selected diplomats reportedly met a senior security official for discussions on the resumption of the IMF programme. Given the urgency with which the country needs budgetary support, one could safely assume by looking at the guest list that the purpose of getting all of these technocrats together was to secure a commitment to implement whatever terms are reached with the IMF in the ongoing negotiations, regardless of which party is in power over the next few months.
The PML-N’s infighting and continuing indecision on the tough measures needed for economic course correction are likely what activated the state’s fail-safe protocols.
From the very beginning, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his cabinet seem to have been consistently undermined and prevented from taking important decisions by Nawaz Sharif and his coterie of loyalists. While the prime minister had seemed prepared to take his inherited challenges head-on and to immediately get started on securing the economy, the elder Sharif still remains unwilling to risk his party’s electoral prospects on measures that are going to prove unpopular with the masses.
Likewise, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, who was ready to hit the ground running with plans to immediately roll back unsustainable fuel and electricity subsidies in order to secure an IMF loan, was severely undercut by Ishaq Dar, the ‘senior’ former finance minister in the PML-N. The latter recently went so far as to tweet an article that was highly dismissive of Mr Ismail’s ability to navigate the economic crisis.
Throughout this stand-off between Islamabad and London, Maryam Nawaz has made it impossible for the prime minister to offer his coalition partners any assurance of the stability or continuity they have repeatedly demanded. In jalsa after jalsa, Ms Maryam Nawaz has repeatedly called on the prime minister to pack up his government and go for elections, stressing that the government should not take responsibility for the economic mess created by its predecessor.
The chaos within the PML-N has created ample room for its rivals. Former prime minister Imran Khan — who has kept his guns trained on the new government and the entire state, firing salvo after salvo to restore status quo ante — now senses that his desired early election may suddenly be within reach. He has delayed the announcement of his long march on the capital, likely to see how recent developments in Islamabad pan out.
Is another game afoot?
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2022