On July 28, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stepped down from his post after a Supreme Court ruling him and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar guilty of corruption, leaving a dangerous political vacuum before the general elections next year. While the Supreme Court’s verdict shows a new era of accountability and a strong political opposition, which is good for a country in transition like Pakistan, it also raises questions about the implications of these developments for country’s economy and security as well as potential scenarios about what will happen next.
This was a historical ruling for Pakistan, which from its emergence in 1947 experienced four military coups d’état and has been affected by multiple sources of violence and insecurity. The end of the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf in 2008 marked the beginning of a period of democratic transition, but armed conflicts, Islamic terrorism, separatist insurgence and sectarian violence have continued to destabilize Pakistan.
The recent judicial decision was taken on the basis of Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution and other domestic legislative provisions, suggesting a revival of the rule of law in the transitional country. The verdict was met with enthusiasm by all major political parties in Pakistan (except Sharif’s PML-N), with many politicians giving credit to the contribution of Imran Khan and his Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The verdict generates some incertitude related to the developments in the next period, while also opening new windows of democratic opportunity for the unstable country, affected by multiple insecurities.
Increasing Support for Imran Khan
Against the background of next year’s general elections, the Supreme Court verdict is likely to increase support for Imran Khan, the leader of the oppositional PTI party. Imran Khan filed the corruption case against PM Nawaz Sharif at the Supreme Court after the leaks related to the Panama Papers at the beginning of 2017 and played an important role in the public debate around the case.
On numerous occasions, PTI showed that it can mobilize substantial parts of the society. The ex-cricketer and his party also gained recognition and appreciation as result of the achievements in the province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where PTI is in government. Disregarding of Nawaz Sharif’s successor, the Supreme Court’s decision is likely to result in a redistribution of political preferences, with voters in the 2018 elections expected to migrate from PML (who was a major favorite) to PTI.
Military Takeover Currently Unlikely
Even after the period of uncertain democratic transition post 2008, the armed forces of Pakistan continue to remain very influent. The ousting of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leaves a dangerous political vacuum and generates a window of opportunity for the military to step in. However, a military takeover is a very unlikely scenario at the moment. This is because a military coup d’état would get little acceptance, from both domestic and international communities, although the military is one of the most trusted institutions in the country, well recognized for its discipline and efficiency.
Demonstrated support of the Pakistan Army for the Taliban and domestic organizations with presumed links to terrorist organizations, such as Jamaat-ud- Dawa, have decreased the popular support for military and its affiliated agencies. An expanding (democratic) political culture in Pakistan is resulting in an increased societal opposition against the interference in politics of men in uniform.
While the Pakistan Army has been praised for numerous security achievements, most notably in stabilizing Karachi – which is the country’s economic centre – and clearing terrorist safe-heavens in Federally Administered Areas (FATA), the resurgence of terrorist attacks post 2014 has raised questions about the army’s approach. What went wrong with the implementation of the National Action Plan?
Nonetheless, the military will continue to play a strong role in both internal and external affairs of Pakistan. Regional instability, particularly spillover effects from Afghanistan and India, nuclear technology and an intensification of Islamic terrorism after 2014, demand a strong military capacity.
The latest political development also creates a series of important opportunities for the nuclear South Asian country. Firstly, it opens a window of opportunity for a re-negotiation and possibly recalibration of civil–military relations, which, even after the beginning of democratic transition post 2008 remained inclined in the favor of the military. A capable and ‘clean’ new Prime Minister, with strong political competences and ability to take command over and strengthen state institutions could consolidate the period of democratic transition in Pakistan. Democratic civilian control and functional civil-military relations are an essential premise of democratic consolidation.
Secondly, the Supreme Court verdict marks the beginning of a new era of accountability, transparency and rule of law, which are vital for the progress of both democracy and security in Pakistan. Inefficiency of government institutions and agencies, lack of democratic political parties and weak political leadership have been factors enabling military intervention in politics and part of Pakistan’s numerous problems in the past.
Implications for Security
In terms of domestic security, the authority vacuum and situation of political uncertainty in the aftermath of the withdrawal of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could be used by terrorist organizations to re-organize themselves and re-define their agendas. However, an intensification of terrorist attacks as result of the verdict cannot be anticipated, because the Pakistan Army and para-military security forces have been in charge of providing security and this is likely to remain so in the next period.
While developments on the political scene might get the military’s attention, it should not prevent them from the main responsibility, i.e. providing security. As far as regional security is concerned, a change in the political leadership and domestic political constellations could result in a shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy, in particular vis-á-vis India and Afghanistan. Depending on the political preferences of the new leadership, this might open new opportunities for negotiations with the neighboring countries.
Implications for Economy
The recent developments jeopardize Pakistan’s period of relative stability after the end of military regime Pervez Musharraf in 2008 and first transfer of power from a civilian to another civilian government in 2013. The premature end of Nawaz Sharif’s mandate generates new institutional instability.
Together with the volatile security situation, the ousting of Nawaz Sharif makes Pakistan an uncertain financial environment, which is likely to further deter investors. In strong association with the Pakistan—China Economic Corridor program, foreign direct investment in Pakistan increased by 10% in 2017. However, the Supreme Court’s disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, along with the Finance Minister of his cabinet, could have significant macroeconomic implications, with possible repercussions on the Pakistan’s bond rating (which was updated to “stable” in 2015).
To conclude, while the ousting of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif opens new opportunities for democratic transition and civil-military relations, the premature change of power in Pakistan is likely to bring a moderate decline in country’s economic momentum, released by the period of relative stability post 2013.
*Cornelia-Adriana Baciu is PhD candidate in Politics and International Relations at the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, where she focuses her research on international security, military economy and democratic security governance. Cornelia-Adriana delivered lectures and tutorials to undergraduate students enrolled in the programme Economics, Politics and Law at Dublin City University. She has presented papers at international conferences in Pakistan, Japan and New Zealand. In 2015, Cornelia-Adriana was a pre-doctoral fellow of the ZEIT-Stiftung Hamburg. Previously, she worked as a Risk Analyst at a security management company in Konstanz, Germany, where she focused her work on armed conflict, terrorism and political instability in Asia and the Middle East. Cornelia-Adriana Baciu studied Politics and European Studies in Germany, India and Romania and completed an internship at the Terrorism Prevention Branch, United Nations.
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