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Shehbaz Sharif’s government faces a host of challenges, ranging from an economic crisis of sorts to internal political instability inflamed by Imran Khan’s relentless attacks on the coalition government.

A month after taking over the premiership, it seems as if Shehbaz has walked into a trap.

The last few weeks in politics have shown us a few things — that the Pakistan Democratic Movement's (PDM) leadership was more or less unprepared to run the government collectively, and that the political grouping focused mainly on managing allies and politicians in order to remove Imran Khan from office.

After assuming office, Shehbaz took days to put together his cabinet. A majority of the decision-making regarding the ministries' allocation was seemingly more about rewarding the parties in the PDM rather than putting in place people best qualified for the role. A key reason: the current ruling setup is built on several political stakeholders that have a party and political interests to protect Shehbaz — so much so that his party has made commitments to this end. This also means that whoever decided to take the post of prime minister will have to face the music.

While PML-N was the one that decided to sit at the helm of affairs, the party has yet to address the existing intra-party differences regarding key appointments and decisions on major policy issues. It has been widely reported that Nawaz Sharif and his close aides are trying to manage Shehbaz and key government affairs from London.

For example, a battle is going on between Miftah Ismail and Ishaq Dar regarding the party's approach to dealing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Then there are other issues involving other allies’ presence at key posts.

Aside from these issues, it has also been a month since the premier took office and has yet to address the nation, take the masses into confidence regarding his plans to turn around the economy or the constitutional process involving the removal of Khan. This essentially leaves the impression that the party is clueless about what needs to be done to manage the economy or tackle Khan’s challenge. On the other hand, it makes it apparent that Shehbaz has virtually no plans to share with the masses.

As things stand, the economy needs urgent and decisive interventions, but Shehbaz and his party appear unprepared to make tough decisions, possibly due to political blowback. At the end of the day, PML-N will have to defend these decisions and it is unlikely that Shehbaz’s coalition partners will stand by his choices as it may not suit their electoral prospects.

The meeting in London will surely have a discussion on the economy as the country is fast running out of options to deal with the situation unless the IMF’s programme is revived.

While Shehbaz may have his limitations, Khan is quietly preparing the ground for the next round. At the moment, the ruling coalition seems unprepared. Venting his frustration, Shehbaz stated that if former governments were offered the kind of support that PTI received from state institutions, the country would have achieved a lot.

While the statement may make sense for some, for millions of Khan’s old and new followers, a conspiracy was committed to oust him and the new government is being led by people who were convicted of money laundering and other crimes. At the moment, no one is asking about Khan’s performance or who groomed or brought him to power in the first place in 2018. In short, Khan is the one connecting with the pulse of the masses' while others appear clueless.

This situation simply shows that the pressure is getting to the PML-N and its leadership. Since his ouster from office, Khan has attempted to build a narrative that his government was removed from office as part of a conspiracy. While Pakistan’s National Security Committee has confirmed on two occasions that there was no conspiracy to oust Khan from power, PTI, seeing the narrative as a powerful tool to rally crowds, has announced to take to the streets.

It is interesting to note here that Khan’s focus has suddenly shifted from JUI-F and PPP to PML-N, as he blames Shehbaz for his ouster. Moreover, given the current political scenario, arguably it would be PML-N that will lose more –electorally that is – in Punjab due to the existing crisis.

One can argue that PML-N’s leadership may now be regretting the decision to assume the position of Prime Minister as the situation has allowed the PPP and JUI-F to remain virtually unscathed electorally.

Ideally, the PML-N would like to come to power with a fresh mandate. However, as the situation stands, it has no choice but to make tough decisions on the economy and counter Khan’s attacks.

The longer this political drama lasts, the better it will be for Khan’s electoral prospects.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Umair Jamal

The writer is Head of the Political Desk at Business Recorder (Digital)


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