Pakistan has a new Prime Minister and the position of the ruling party seems to be intact in the Parliament. Throughout the Panama case, many observers had opined that with the ouster of former PM Nawaz Sharif — democracy would not be derailed. Apparently, that seems to be the case as a new PM and his cabinet will look after the affairs of the government until the 2018 elections.
Beyond the apparent transition, the seeds of instability have been sown. The earlier decision of PML-N to nominate the Punjab Chief minister Shehbaz Sharif as the PM may not be working out for a variety of reasons. Managing Punjab is key to PML-N’s future prospects. After all, it is the Punjab that decides who rules Islamabad. With Shehbaz Sharif gone and given the factionalism within PML-N, it is uncertain if the younger Sharif’s successor would be able to steer the party to the next election.
We had objected to the evident nepotism in Shehbaz Sharif’s nomination as the future PM. Not because Shehbaz is not fit for the job but that the recent setbacks had given a unique opportunity to the party to revise its style of governance and end the dynastic hold over the party leadership. The decision not to send Shehbaz to Islamabad has definitely not been taken to reverse the trend of dynastic politics. In fact media reports suggest that CM Sharif was keen that his son Hamza Shehbaz succeed him in the Punjab. This would have created a dynasty within a dynasty. While the PML-N may have some real fears of the party cracking up in the months to come — dynastic control is not the solution.
It is likely that the recently elected PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi may continue in office until next year. This will provide some measure of stability but this period also denotes a major challenge for the PML-N to stay intact as a party, ensure effective governance and not take any missteps that may lead to collision between state institutions. In the past whenever such conflict occurred, democratic process suffered a setback.
The PMLN is aggrieved and has reservations about the Supreme Court decision. Still it has the responsibility to steer the country out of the current crisis and act as a seasoned political force. Ultimately, it is the continuity of democratic governance that matters more than individuals or even parties. For this reason, former PM Nawaz Sharif should let the law take its own course and look towards the elections of 2018. These months should also be vital for the former first family to do some stock taking and learn from the Panama debacle. They need to reflect on the mistakes they may have made.
Most importantly, the Supreme Court in its eagerness to conduct accountability trials of Nawaz Sharif and family needs to take a longer view of its recent verdict and to see whether that will garner stability for the country. The real onus of ensuring political stability now rests with the permanent power centre, that is, the military establishment. For too long, political upheavals have prevented Pakistan from realising its economic potential and it will serve the long-term interest of the country and its Army if there is a smooth transition of power in 2018 elections.
Daily Times, August 4, 2017