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What Next?

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo. Alain Jocard—AFP

Nawaz Sharif’s ouster as prime minister of Pakistan leaves the country at yet another crossroads

Ex-P.M. Nawaz Sharif has hit the road and found Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) support traveling through a province governed by his brother, Shahbaz Sharif. This is a far cry from his political adversaries—all of whom abandoned him: from the opposition in Parliament led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) he stabbed in the back in 2011 during Memogate, to the Supreme Court that once saw him supporting its manhunt of the PPP in power, and the “street power” of Imran Khan, etc. When attacking the PPP government, his policy was to side with the establishment condemning the “trade with India” policy of President Asif Ali Zardari that the GHQ found treasonable. To an extent anti-Americanism was embraced too because of the American assault on Pakistani checkpost Salala, which General Kayani found unforgivable.

If you want to survive politically, you need to be on the right side of the establishment, but elected governments have a way of falling afoul with it. Sharif won the polls in 2113 pledging trade with India, which put off the establishment even though for once all the chambers of commerce and industry supported his policy. He had returned from exile, not disenchanted and therefore realistic, but strangely emboldened and defiant, and was immediately at cross-purposes with the GHQ. He had bad memories of Army chief General Musharraf, who was now facing a trial for treason, which likely gave him heart to push his new, clearly more liberal, approach to foreign policy. Soon enough, a leak in daily Dawn made it clear that he wanted to take the foreign policy in hand to end Pakistan’s regional and international isolation. Immediately, his troubles with the establishment resumed, which meant revenge-seeking politicians in Parliament had to join the “Go Nawaz” campaign.

Conditions are different today with the rise of the cult of street power, from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) “youth” to the powerful clerical Pakistan Defense Council, its supremo Hafiz Saeed of Jamaatud Dawa ready to re-launch his warriors as a political party sending friendly signals to Imran Khan. It is going to be difficult holding on to Punjab in the period preceding the 2018 elections. The PMLN will not be able to match the muscle of Imran Khan’s PTI in the streets and the more sinister capacities of the Defense of Pakistan Council, which can be beefed up with additional pliable madrassa leaders. The judiciary will be gunning for him with ongoing inquiries against the Sharif clan at the National Accountability Bureau, and younger brother Shahbaz exposed to the heretofore secret Justice Baqir Najafi report on the Model Town carnage of 2014 after which the device of street power became a part of Pakistani politics. The PMLN is likely facing its first period of decline on the lines of the PPP and Pakistan is facing a future of a weak Parliament and internally brawling coalition governments with foreign policy buried in the debris of external isolation and internal disorder.

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