Out of jail now, former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is gearing up to seize control of the political situation that opponents claim the new incumbent in the country’s prime ministerial chair Imran Khan has usurped by rigging the elections with tacit help from the Army.
Sharif, who along with his daughter and son-in-law was jailed a few days ahead of the July 25 parliamentary elections in the country, is trying to bring all key Opposition parties on one platform against the current political establishment in Islamabad, as per Pakistan Muslim League (PML) spokesman Marriyum Auranzeb.
In view of the October 14 bypolls for several federal and provincial seats, the PML-N has approached the PPP to field joint opposition candidates against Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) contestants. Political watchers say if the PML-N’s attempt to unify Opposition parties remains successful, it will pose a major challenge to Prime Minister Imran Khan who is presiding over a coalition government in Pakistan.
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As a seasoned politician, Sharif still wields considerable political influences in the country. The day he was released from jail, thousands of PML-N supporters had thronged the streets in Islamabad and showered rose petals on his cavalcade.
Although it can be termed a usual spectacle in the South Asian region where even a tainted politician is treated like a hero by his supporters upon coming out of jail, Sharif’s legal battle is seen by his supporters as an opportunity to defeat his opponents’ politically motivated plan to get him out of Pakistan’s mainstream politics. Therefore, the Islamabad High Court’s September 19 judgment that suspended his 10-year jail term on account of lack of proof of wrongs over the purchase of upscale apartments in London, emboldened him to further carry out his fight against Army generals and political elites who created roadblocks in his way.
According to the PML-N spokesman, the PML-N together with other political parties will expose the Imran Khan-led government and launch a nationwide drive against electoral malpractices that the three-time former prime minister’s supporters and EU observers alleged had hit the general elections.
Political watchers fear that at the time when Pakistan is fighting with economic trouble and Imran Khan himself is moving from pillar to post to avert balance of payment crisis that the country is staring at, Sharif’s anti-Imran move can send chills down even hardened Army generals’ spine.
According to the State Bank of Pakistan’s statement, Pakistan’s external debt and liabilities stood at a record $91.8 billion till March this year. The SBP further suggested that the figure may touch $100 billion soon as the country faces challenges on its balance of payment front.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which passes through Baltistan and other areas of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir has added to the burden of Pakistan’s exchequer.
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Till the last week of May, Pakistan was saddled with $10.3 billion in foreign currency reserves. Given this when Imran Khan-led new government was formed, its first and foremost task was to seek bail-out package from the International Monetary Fund. Pakistan has sought $12 billion from the IMF. But the United States, the largest contributor of fund to the multilateral funding agency, has put a hurdle in its funding to Pakistan, stating that money meant for development purpose would end up in financing China’s debt due to CPEC project.
Pakistan has also sought $2 billion loan from China. To seek money, the cricketer-turned-politician even landed at the Saudi King’s door and the UAE. Imran visited Saudi Arabia and the UAE despite his earlier announcement that he would not travel abroad at least for three months in office. Obviously, he broke his solemn vow for the sake of funds and investments. And in this regard, he remained successful too since the Saudi King assured maximum assistance to Pakistan besides announcing Riyadh’s decision to join the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The UAE also assured the visiting Pakistan prime minister of financial assistance and investments. It remains to be seen how much assistance is pouring in from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Pakistan.
Whether it helps resolve deep economic malaise of the country, or improve job situation in the market, will have to be seen. But there is a possibility that Sharif and other Opposition political leaders’ proposed plan to mount pressure on the Supreme Court to direct the Election Commission to institute a probe into the involvement of the PTI in the alleged July 25 electoral fraud may unsettle the Imran Khan government.
The Lahore High Court’s October 8 hearing on a petition seeking action against Sharif for claiming that those involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack belonged to Pakistan is seen as a pre-emptive move by Imran Khan and his backers against such plans of the deposed prime minister.
Sharif had acknowledged in an interview to Dawn, the Pakistani daily that terrorist organisations are active in Pakistan. He had also questioned the policy to allow non-State actors to cross the border and kill people in Mumbai. This was seen as a direct attack on the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) whom Indian and US intelligence officials have identified as those playing a key role in perpetrating heinous attack in Mumbai in which 166 people were killed, including Israelis and other foreigners.
But then a cat has been set among pigeons; Sharif is not a lightweight political figure; he will not let Imran Khan breathe easily. Therefore, the next few months are crucial for political pundits also as they will watch things unfolding in Pakistan under Imran Khan whose style of functioning has begun to reflect tell-tale signs of his political and administrative immaturity.