In a recent turn of events, Nawaz Sharif, who has previously held the position of Prime Minister in Pakistan three times, has returned home after nearly four years in self-imposed exile in London. He left the country in 2019, having been granted bail for medical treatment following a corruption conviction a year earlier. Now, he is the prime ministerial candidate for his party in the upcoming elections. This development may seem like déjà vu for many in Pakistan, and it raises several questions about the country’s political landscape and the challenges that lie ahead.
The Revolving Door of Political Leadership
One cannot help but notice that Pakistan has often witnessed a revolving door of political leadership. This pattern involves the transfer of power from influential families to populist leaders, often with the implicit approval of the military, regardless of election outcomes. Unfortunately, this practice has not served the nation well.
Pakistan has a history of political instability, and this situation remains unchanged. Nawaz Sharif’s rival, the former Prime Minister Imran Khan, is currently serving a five-year sentence for corruption and faces numerous other cases due to conflicts with the military, who hold considerable power in Pakistan.
The Complex Relationship Between Sharif and the Generals
Nawaz Sharif’s relationship with the military has been characterized by both cooperation and conflict. In 2017, they clashed following an investigation prompted by the Panama Papers, which revealed the Sharif family’s use of offshore accounts to acquire luxury London apartments. Sharif vehemently denied the charges, claiming they were politically motivated, but he was sentenced to ten years in absentia. However, he has recently been granted bail, indicating a possible shift in his favor with the military. Nevertheless, trust between Sharif and the generals remains fragile, making the prospect of a lasting alliance uncertain.
The Daunting Challenges for Sharif
As Nawaz Sharif returns to Pakistan, he is faced with a country in turmoil. Pakistan is grappling with a severe economic crisis, soaring inflation rates, and a resurgence in terrorist attacks. The nation was on the verge of default in July when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) intervened with a $3 billion program. This is the latest in a series of over 20 loans received from the IMF since gaining independence from British rule in 1947.
Inflation in Pakistan is skyrocketing, with rates reaching an astonishing 31%, the highest in Asia. The government raised fuel prices to meet IMF bailout conditions, exacerbating the cost of living for the populace.
The Prominence of the Sharif Family
The Sharif family has been a significant presence in Pakistan’s political landscape for decades. Maryam Nawaz, Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, was arrested in connection with her father’s corruption case but was appointed the senior vice president of their party earlier this year. His brother, Shehbaz Sharif, led a coalition that ousted Imran Khan in a no-confidence vote last year and briefly served as Prime Minister.
Nawaz Sharif’s return ahead of the expected elections is an attempt to propel his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, back into power. Currently disqualified from holding public office, his eligibility depends on the military’s disposition, despite their denial of interference in politics.
What Was Missing in Sharif’s Comeback Speech
Despite the enthusiastic reception in Lahore, Nawaz Sharif’s speech left much to be desired. While it was laden with emotion, it lacked substance and a clear plan to rescue Pakistan from its economic crisis. Notably, there was no mention of a roadmap to shrink the public sector and expand the tax base to increase government revenue, as suggested by some experts.
Nawaz Sharif played a pivotal role in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a part of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing may be eager to see him back in power. However, China’s investments in Pakistan have faced challenges, including an acute balance-of-payment crisis and depleting foreign exchange reserves. One-third of Pakistan’s debt is owed to China.
Furthermore, Sharif’s speech did not address the escalating tensions with neighboring Afghanistan. Given the history of election violence in the region, it is essential to work towards peaceful relations with Afghanistan. The situation is already complex, with the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul two years ago and Islamabad’s unmet expectations regarding the surrender of Afghan-based insurgents.
The Uncertain Political Landscape
Nawaz Sharif’s return, while dramatic, does not guarantee a political comeback. Pakistan is grappling with numerous issues, including dynastic politics fatigue and a prolonged cost-of-living crisis. Surprisingly, even while in detention, Imran Khan remains popular, with approval ratings of 60% in July.
In conclusion, Pakistan stands at a critical juncture, and its future remains uncertain. The return of Nawaz Sharif to the political scene raises many questions about the nation’s political dynamics and the challenges it faces. Whether he can steer Pakistan out of its economic crisis and navigate the complex web of domestic and international issues is yet to be seen.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Who is Nawaz Sharif, and why did he return to Pakistan?
Nawaz Sharif is a former Prime Minister of Pakistan who returned to the country after several years in self-imposed exile. He is the prime ministerial candidate for his party in the upcoming elections.
2. What challenges does Pakistan face as Sharif returns?
Pakistan is grappling with an economic crisis, high inflation, and a resurgence in terrorist attacks. It has received numerous loans from the IMF to address its financial woes.
3. What is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and why is it significant?
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a major infrastructure project as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It has geostrategic importance and aims to boost economic cooperation between the two nations.
4. Why is the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan tense?
Tensions exist between Pakistan and Afghanistan due to the return of the Taliban to power in Kabul and unmet expectations regarding the surrender of Afghan-based insurgents.
5. What is the current political landscape in Pakistan, and who is Imran Khan?
Pakistan’s political landscape is complex, and the nation is grappling with dynastic politics fatigue and a cost-of-living crisis. Imran Khan, a former Prime Minister, remains popular, even while in detention.