WITH the political environment in Pakistan fraught with uncertainty, the benign press statement from London has done little to ease the pressures gradually building up in Islamabad. Nothing new or of substance has been shared with the public since the prime minister met his older brother, PML-N ‘supreme leader’ Nawaz Sharif, for what was reportedly a ‘family only’ discussion.
If the reports are accurate, even the PML-N federal ministers present in the city were not invited.
We do know that important business was discussed, particularly the fate of the Punjab government — where the Sharifs seem to once again want to install their scion, Hamza Shehbaz, as chief minister — and the timing of the next general elections — which, they decided, will be held according to the official schedule. However, instead of offering any insight into what is going on in their minds, or providing assurances that matters are under control, the Sharif brothers left even old questions unanswered.
For example, if the government is indeed intent on limping to the next general elections, to be held in the latter part of next year according to the official schedule, what is its strategy? How does it plan to steady the listing economy in the months it has when the man who should be leading that task has been tied down by his own party? Is he to be replaced, and by whom? If not, will he be allowed to do his job without worrying about fulminations from the Nawaz camp? Every day that passes in stasis inflicts further damage on the economy.
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Likewise, how does bringing Hamza Shehbaz back as Punjab chief minister help the instability? Will it not cause further chaos? What is it apart from another attempt by the PML-N to wrest back lost clout in the constituencies that have traditionally brought it to power?
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Most importantly, how do the government and the PML-N plan to counter the resurgent Imran Khan, who has made it clear that he is not going to rest unless he is shown a path back to power? Will they, as some have threatened, unleash Interior Minister Rana Sanuallah to keep the PTI in check? How will they deal with the blowback if the party pushes back and the law-enforcement agencies once again go overboard in their response?
It is clear that the Sharifs want to hold their cards very close to their chest. Such is the distrust prevalent in the party — split into camps as it is — that even the prime minister’s cabinet is being kept in the dark. This is hardly assuring.
It is alarming that the government, while seeming intent on completing its tenure, has no clear plans for the future to share. With its own silence exacerbating the evaporation of faith in the government, the PML-N is taking a strange path indeed.
Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2022