Shehbaz Sharif’s Challenging Task Of Reversing Imran Khan’s Economic Failure

Keeping in view that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his 37-member cabinet has to prove its merit in governance in less than one and a half years and face a nationwide elections

By Sankar Ray

  • Shehbaz Sharif comes from a political family and is the younger brother of former Pak premier Nawaz Sharif
  • The multi-party coalition government has to fight the economic crisis as a war front
  • The Pakistani economy is now in a worse shape on all accounts under the three-and-a-half-year PTI rule
  • Imran Khan’s populist measures to soften the blow of rising fuel prices imposed a greater burden on the economy

MY good friend, Khalid Mahmood, for many years a frontline functionary of the Progressive Writers Association, in his very first reaction after the defeat of erstwhile Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan Niazi and the coalition government in Islamabad, led by his Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaaf Party in the no-trust motion and voting thereafter was ‘Khalid Mahmood- ‘Finally & constitutionally, his presumptuous ass got kicked out of his seat.’ One of the topmost editors of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, editor of The Friday Times of Lahore repeatedly described Imran Khan as a puppet of ‘miltablishment’ (military establishment) and a non-performer.

Mahmood Sahib, based in Gujranwala, in a lengthy email to me wrote pointedly, ‘Although it mocks the power-wielding from the barrel of the gun, but, the reality is Imran is the prophet of his own doom. He is a gravely self-centred narcissist whose credentials were misread by Pasha & Hameed Gul etc. Although, he was pampered & propped for twenty years not by one man but by multiple stakeholders, yet his demolition was worth watching. He was good enough to build a hospital by collecting donations from all over the world. He does not believe in altruistic teamwork and team building. He, himself, was the most efficient self-proclaimed team. In a nutshell, the dwindling economies of the poor countries cannot be managed by throwing shadows of Medina model rhetoric. The truth is, our coffers are empty and yet we are bellowing like an ox with dyspepsia of megalomania.

Nobody is willing to lend us a buck these days. It is more interesting to study the character of a former playboy womaniser turned into a superstitious maniac who used to sleep with pretty women of the world in his salad days. His snapping of rosary beads, offering mysterious sacrifices to ward off evil spirits and bowing his head along with Bushra Bibi at Baba Farid mausoleum at Pakpattan reveal a lot to plain folks. He had great material successes but never showed an ounce of reason to build his team. I could be wrong but these are my humble readings of our hard times’.

Imran Khan

Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa, presently a research associate at the South Asia Institute of School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and formerly director of naval research under the Pakistan Navy (the first civilian head) in a webzine, https://www.9dashline.com, wrote an appraisal of Imran Khan, captioned, ‘Imran Khan-end of a civilian dictator’. The erstwhile premier’s ascension to power in 2018 ‘was marked with lofty promises of solving corruption, youth unemployment, and speedy recovery of the economy in 90 days. Unfortunately, these were never fulfilled due to poor governance and misplaced priorities. At the end of the day, Khan will be remembered for targeting the opposition rather than focusing on economic challenges such as inflation that rose to 13 per cent also pushing up food inflation to 15.1 per cent in March 2022, driving millions towards grinding poverty’.

Pity is that although King Khan had no dearth of sportsman’s spirit when he led the Pakistan Test Cricket team, in the political field his default in sportsmanship is precipitate. He is not prepared to accept a defeat in the National Assembly. He gloats with a massive ego and a loyal base of support as if Pakistanis must not forget that he was a superstar before he was Prime Minister, having been the captain of Pakistan’s national cricket team.

Pakistani American economist Mian Arif whom Khan had commissioned as an economic adviser in 2018 was disillusioned soon (was dropped following a controversy) is of the view that the Pakistani economy is now in a worse shape on all accounts under the three-and-a-half-year PTI rule. “The PTI tenure could be marred by low GDP growth, higher inflation, especially food inflation, average low tax collection of FBR, higher expenditures, rising public debt and liabilities as well as an escalating monster of circular debt. Now the twin deficits known as yawning fiscal deficit and current account deficit are again skyrocketing, especially the current account deficit was again touching a level that was inherited by the PTI government when it had assumed reins of power after winning the 2018 general elections.” He stated. This apart, zero growth in per capita income, enveloping balance of payments-crisis.

The International Monetary Fund is worried over the soaring inflation and widening current account deficit in Pakistan. According to the IMF, inflation will float around 11.2 percent this year while the current account deficit will veer around 3.5 per cent of gross domestic product. The economic growth rate is expected to be around 4 percent while the unemployment rate may remain at 7 percent this year and may slightly fall to 6.7 percent next year.

It is more interesting to study the character of Imran Khan, a former playboy womaniser turned into a superstitious maniac who used to sleep with pretty women of the world in his salad days. His snapping of rosary beads, offering mysterious sacrifices to ward off evil spirits and bowing his head along with Bushra Bibi at Baba Farid mausoleum at Pakpattan reveal a lot to plain folks 

However, Dr. Siddiqa put it bluntly, “During his years in power, Khan expanded the military’s intervention in the state and society horizontally. In the end, there was not a single key institution of the state that was not run by a uniformed officer either serving or retired. Of course, the military never took responsibility for adverse decisions and deflected criticism toward the government.”

The task before 70-year-old 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan, Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, who represents the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), is extremely tough, his reputation as a good administrator, proven twice as the chief minister of Punjab. Little wonder, the Pakistan People’s Party co-chair and former President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari proposed the name of Shehbaz Sharif as the Prime Minister. Sharif comes from a political family and is the younger brother of former Pak premier Nawaz Sharif.

Keeping in view that the 37-member federal ministry has to prove its merit in governance in less than one and a half years and face a nationwide election for the National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan’s Parliament, the new premier announced a few relief measures immediately after taking over as the PM like raise of minimum monthly wages at Rs 25,000, subsidized wheat flour and 10 percent raise in pensions as well as salaries of the government employees getting less than Rs one lakh monthly salaries, effective right away. The minimum monthly wages will be up from Rs 21,000 to Rs 25,000 per month from 1 April 1, 2022. The premier announced the revival of the Benazir Income Support Programme and its linkage with the education, provision of flour at subsidized rates under the Ramazan package and restarting distribution of laptops among the talented students.

Furthermore, the PM assured that he would put in his paper if it is proved through an inquiry that there was an international conspiracy behind the no-confidence resolution against the former PM Imran Khan. “Even if there is an iota of evidence to prove it in the National Security Committee meeting that there was any conspiracy, I will not take more than a second to resign as the prime minister,” he asserted.
Mian Shehbaz Sharif in his letter after taking over as PM to his Indian counterpart Minister Narendra Modi stated unambiguously, “We believe that peaceful and cooperative ties between Pakistan and India are imperative for the progress and socio-economic uplift of our people and for the region.

Imran Khan will be remembered for targeting the opposition rather than focusing on economic challenges such as inflation that rose to 13 per cent also pushing up food inflation to 15.1 per cent in March 2022, driving millions towards grinding poverty

This can be best achieved through meaningful engagement and peaceful resolution of all outstanding disputes, including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir. ” Some Indian media pundits took umbrage at the mention of the Kashmir question. Such reaction reflects aberrant chauvinism, forgetting that being a Pakistani, the new PM has the right and logic to set out his perception on the Kashmir issue which is but vexatious.

Modi tweeted, “Congratulations to H. E. Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif on his election as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. India desires peace and stability in a region free of terror so that we can focus on our development challenges and ensure the well-being and prosperity of our people.” Shehbaz Sharif tweeted back, “Thank you Premier Narendra Modi for felicitations. Pakistan desires peaceful & cooperative ties with India. Peaceful settlement of outstanding disputes including Jammu & Kashmir is indispensable.

Pakistan’s sacrifices in fighting terrorism are well-known. Let’s secure peace and..”
The new multi-party coalition government comprising PML(N), PPP, Muttahida Majlis–e–Amal, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (Pakistan), Balochistan Awami Party, Balochistan National Party (Mengal), Jamhoori Wattan Party, PML(Quaid) and breakaway section of PTI. PML(N) has 13 ministers other than the PM, nine of PPP and four of MMA. There are five women, like Marriyum Aurangzeb of PML-N, Sherry Rahman and Hina Rabani Khar of PPP.

Among the key appointments was Finance Minister Miftah Ismail (PML-N), 57, a businessman and economist. assigned with the task of stabilising a troubled economy and restarting talks with the International Monetary Fund. Aisha Ghaus Pasha, a former provincial finance minister, will work with Ismail as a state minister for finance. His very first meeting was with the Chinese Embassy’s charge d’affaires, obviously as China Beijing has pledged billions of dollars in loans and investment in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a segment of the Belt and Road Initiative. ‘The CPEC that the corridor will play an important role in taking Pakistan’s economy forward as well as cementing the bilateral relationship’, Ismail stated.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has been offered the post of foreign minister. In fact, the minister of state for foreign affairs is Hina Rabbani Khar of PPP. His delay in taking oath as the foreign minister was that he wanted a one-to-one meeting with Nawaz Sharif in London.“I have refused to take the oath as minister of state for personal reasons. I want to focus on upcoming general elections and I have also informed the party about my decision,” he revealed before leaving for London.
The new minister for foreign affairs has to do a lot of damage control as Imran Khan hukmat did much harm to Pakistan’s overseas image. Pakistan then refused to participate in the Kuala Lumpur Summit under pressure from Saudi Arabia, and it did not join the global outrage against China’s autocratic acts in Hong Kong. The PTI government did not condemn the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi nor did share the worldwide condemnation of the treatment of Uyghurs in China etc. This was strange as Imran Khan has often been a vocal critic of Islamophobia.

Sharif’s government will have limited manoeuvring space on the foreign policy front. However, Sharif seems inclined to focus on balancing existing ties rather than scoring any breakthroughs. The personal rapport Sharif developed with China during his tenure as chief minister of Punjab should help him boost the ties between Beijing and Islamabad. But Pakistan has to walk a tightrope keeping in mind the growing rivalry – if not animosity- between the United States and China, the two global powers.

Historically, foreign policy did never have any influence over domestic politics in Pakistan. But right now, the PTI, which remains a force to reckon with, is building an entire campaign against the new government and for the next election with allegations of foreign interference in Pakistani politics and an alleged US conspiracy to overthrow the PTI government. Sharif is likely to focus on Saudi Arabia and China. But the Sharif brothers are also known for a conciliatory attitude toward India.

The task before 70-year-old 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan, Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, who represents the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), is extremely tough, his reputation as a good administrator, proven twice as the chief minister of Punjab

The multi-party coalition government has to fight the economic crisis as a war front. Pakistan’s budget deficit is at a historic high, and its external debt has shot up by 20 percent in the past year. Now, with inflation at 13 percent, Pakistan is “in dire economic straits,” warned Aqil Shah, a visiting scholar in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Imran Khan’s populist measures to soften the blow of rising fuel prices imposed a greater burden on the economy that heads towards worse from bad. Work alcoholic PM tweeted for all ministers, “It is my fervent hope that federal ministers, ministers of state & advisers will provide leadership & resolve the problems of the people,” he said on Twitter, adding ‘Work, work & only work is our motto’ “.

Needless to state, working with parties with diverse politics and ideologies is almost certain to be tough and cumbersome. BNP(N) supremo Sardar Akhtar Mengal did not attend the oath-taking ceremony of the federal cabinet to symbolically protest against the Chaghi incident near Quetta The killing of a driver, Hameedullah, had sparked a violent protest there. Eight people were injured in the ensuing unrest when security forces opened fire to disperse the angry mob. The Awami National Party declined to accept any official post.

A spectre of agonising uncertainty haunts the corridors of power in Islamabad. Nobody knows whether the motley coalition will last for 16 months when the tenure of the present NA ends. The troubleshooter is Imran Khan whose ‘core support consists largely of those disenchanted with Pakistan’s patrician political culture led by well-known dynasts with numerous skeletons in their cupboards. What catapulted him to power was, however, not this core constituency but because he appeared to the Pakistan army to be the best available option to dislodge the former premier Nawaz Sharif in exile, as rightly stated by Indian economist Renu Kohli.
Khan failed to block the no-confidence vote by dissolving Parliament and calling early elections due to the conscientious role of the Supreme Court of Pakistan but will keep demanding elections to the NA, stick to the U.S. conspiracy, a charge that Washington has denied. In fine, the mauled PTI supremo will leave no nerve unstrained to destabilise the coalition government. “Pakistan has paid the price for clinging to US imperialism. Apparently, Khan’s accusation seems baseless, but nothing is impossible for Uncle Sam”, said a middle-ranker of PPP on conditions of anonymity.

Sankar Ray

Sankar Ray is a senior journalist who has worked in various news and current affairs magazine, has spawned scores of good journalists and has in-depth knowledge of global issues, especially Left politics in India and abroad.

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