Pakistan in the last eighteen months since PTI PM Imran Khan was constitutionally ousted in early 2022 has been subjected to incessant and unprecedented political turmoil not due to any external threats but due to politically disruptionist strategies unleashed by the megalomaniac ego of ousted PM Imran Khan. Pakistan witnessed unprecedented PTI mob violence against Pakistan Army GHQ, air bases and military installations across Pakistan.
PML-N PM Shahbaz Sharif who steered Pakistan, after ouster of Imran Khan through this political turbulence for last eighteen months stepped down from office on August 09 2023 paving the way for installation of a Caretaker Government to manage governance till General Elections constitutionally mandated to be held within 90 as, against within 60 days, ensured by PM Shahbaz Sharif laying down office before his term ended. PML-N thus gains 30 days more to politically prepare for Elections and catering for possible return of Former PM Nawaz Sharif.
In this process, Senator Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, a siting Senator of Pakistan’s National Assembly has been nominated as Caretaker PM to assume office on August 13 2023. He hails from Baluchistan but is of Pashtun tribal lineage and had formed his own Baluchistan Awami Party. He started his political innings by contesting elections as an independent candidate and has not been involved in any political controversies.
Pakistan’s ongoing political dynamics in August 2023 seem to be revolving around three major political factors (1) PTI Supremo and Former PM Imran Khan is in jail, and is unlikely to contest forthcoming National Elections estimated to be held in 2023 (2) Former PML-N PM Nawaz Sharif in exile in London having been cleared to return to Pakistan by a legal amendment, may take time to return to Pakistan to lead PML-N for National Elections (3) PPP as the second major political party, while being a member of the ruling Coalition, will apparently make its political choices depending upon the outcome of forthcoming National Elections.
So in actual effect, the National Elections in end 2023 will be a political contest between the two major political parties, namely, PML-N and PPP. The Pakistan Army is unlikely to permit Imran Khan to be in the PM race, though notionally, the PTI remnants led by Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi, former Foreign Minister and long-standing PM-hopeful may be allowed to contest elections. Imran Khan is in jail in a high-security prison at Attock and presently stands ‘Disqualified” from contesting Elections for the next five years.
In all these political churnings, there is a fly in the ointment, and that happens to be outgoing Chief Justice of Pakistan Bandial reputed to be pro-PTI Supremo Imran Khan. He could resort to legal rulings making it difficult for return of Former PML-N PM Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan and further attempt to exonerate Imran Khan to enable his participation in Elections.
The Pakistan Army Chief, General Munir and the military hierarchy is unlikely to let Chief Justice Bandial’s political activism in favour of Imran Khan to succeed.
The incoming Caretaker PM Anwaar ul Haq has been empowered with a fresh legal mandate to honour Pakistan’s ongoing commitments to IMF, decide on economic policies to improve Pakistan’s faltering economy, and other measures for political stability in run-up to November National Elections.
The Caretaker PM has his hands full as he faces the daunting task of meeting the challenges of economic stress, rising prices of essential commodities and in tandem ensuring political stability for the next 90 days. But surely, the Pakistani Establishment would underwrite his authority to tackle these challenges.
A significant factor that hovers on the political horizon in terms of domestic dynamics is that whether PTI populist support manifested through street-power of Pakistani youth and some sections of Pakistani elite could generate political disturbances to disrupt peaceful conduct of National Elections? Going by the harsh suppression of PTI riotous mobs in May 2023nd large-scale arrests by Pakistan Amy and their trial by Military Courts would be a dampener on any violent PTI political disruption.
Political imponderables that need to be considered for the next 90 days are (1) Will Nawaz Sharif return in time to lead PML-N as PML-N PM candidate? (2)Without awaiting outcome of National Elections, can the PML-N and PPP work out some seat-sharing formula, to avoid post-results political bickering? (3) Will Punjab Assembly Elections be held simultaneously with National Elections?
While political pundits will compulsively engage in hair-splitting discussions of these three factors, going by contextual indicators, it would be a safe-bet to assert that the political blueprint would have already been worked out by Pakistan Army Chief. The Pakistan Army showed unexpected forbearance in toleration of PTI Imran Khan’s generated political disruptions in last 18 months and will now have Zero Tolerance for such continuity.
Pakistan’s domestic dynamics have been historically been in a manner of speaking been largely dominated by Pakistan’s external dynamics dependent as it is for economic sustenance on massive financial infusions from countries like the United States, Saudi Arabia and UAE, and for military aid from China.
In two and a half years of Imran Khan Regime, he adopted patently ‘hostile stances’ against the United States and consistently accusing America for destabilising his regime and planning his overthrow. Imran Khan overplayed the ‘China Card’ against the United States, until recently. Imran Khan can be said to have muddied US-Pak relations to a new low. It was for this reason that the United States made the IMF to go slow in providing loans.
In the last 18 months, outgoing PM Shahbaz Sharif went out of the way to restore good relations with the United States, so much so, that the United States is resurrecting its security relationship with Pakistan. Former Army Chief Bajwa and incumbent Pak Army Chief have invested a lot to restore good relations with the United States.
In terms of external preferences as to who should be the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, the United States would opt for anyone other than Imran Khan. The Pakistan Establishment could logically be expected to factor-in this calculation.
Saudi Arabia and UAE can be expected to go along with this option, even though, Saudi Arabia is currently enamoured with China.
China’s strong preference would be Imran Khan but China is pragmatic enough not to go against current political mood in higher echelons of Pakistan Establishment.
Strangely, Russia too seems to be interested. Few days back the Bureau Chief of Russian news agency in New Delhi rang me up for sound-bytes on two questions (1) How does Imran Khan’s arrest impact events in South Asia (2) Has Imran Khan been successful in ‘denting’ the image of Pakistan Army. My cryptic answers were that Imran Khan’s arrest was internal matter of Pakistan and did not affect South Asia or India, which he implicitly meant. On second question, I replied that Pakistan Army occupies a special position in Pakistan. Its image has not been dented.
In terms of badly needed financial assistance that Pakistan needs to bail out from its economic meltdown, only with the United States in lead will Saudi Arabia and UAE in tow provide the massive volumes of financial bailouts. China has been niggardly in this respect despite its proclamations of Eternal Friendship with Pakistan.
The next 90 days will be challenging for Pakistan and even in the immediate wake post-Election results unless a clear mandate is given by the Pakistani masses. The Religious Rightist Parties are part of the Ruling Coalition and can be expected to continue as such. Political violence can be expected but the Pakistan Army Chief would not be inclined to stay “neutral” as earlier done. Pakistan Army Chief can be expected to come down with a heavy hand on political violence especially that generated by PTI elements.
Before concluding, it needs to be highlighted that Pakistan Army Chief General Munir has played a significant role by personal visits to Saudi Arabia and UAE to secure financial packages for Pakistan. Pakistan Army Chief now assumes a greater role not only in political scripting but also in the management of Pakistan’s economy.
In Conclusion, what can be emphasised is that Pakistan masses would have realised that in 2023 with a burgeoning population of 240 million people, Pakistan cannot afford to be a playground of ‘populist politics’ practised by PTI Supremo Imran Khan which has caused an unprecedented political and economic meltdown of Pakistan. Pakistan needs a steadying political hand to extricate the country from the economic swamp in which Pakistan was pushed-in by Imran Khan’s disruptive politics.