Shahbaz Sharif to be Next Pakistan PM: Army Prepares for Polls, To Keep Zardari Out As Well
AS expected Pakistan’s just removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is set to elevate Shahbaz Sharif, his volatile younger brother and chief minister of Punjab, as next PM to serve till the general elections that are scheduled to be held before May 2018.
Since the younger Sharif is not a member of the National Assembly, someone from the senior ministers including Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Khurram Dastgir Khan will be asked to warm the seat for 45 days, a mandatory period for Sharif to get elected.
The decision is no surprise since there was no chance that Nawaz Sharif could have handed the post to someone out of the family. He was grooming his daughter Maryam to replace him and since it can’t be now that she has turned out to be the beneficial owner of the off-shore companies, the baton will be handed over to younger brother later.
Ever since Sharif started politics in 1981, he never plied the trade of politics without the umbrella and help of the establishment, meaning the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies. This is the first time he has to do it without military or agencies being on his side. So he is pretty much in uncharted waters. And since he is a cautious player he is playing it safe.
However, without power on his hand and without Shahbaz Sharif manning the Punjab front, will he be able to keep his party united. The answer is, he can if he creates the perception that his party is acceptable to the military, and the foreign powers. So the fate of the party is entirely in the hand of the Establishment as all the military needs to do is to send signals that it is not interested in backing Sharif in the next elections.
The other scenario is the younger Sharif who lacks charisma and glue that his elder brother has, bows before the GHQ and ask for repentance and if the chief listens then he might be able to wade through the choppy waters and start leading his own version of PML-N. However, beating the charisma of his arch political rival Imran Khan will be an uphill task for younger Sharif.
The PML-N back-benchers are pointing towards a change of heart for Nawaz Sharif in Riyadh after his downfall. They say that Saudis helped win Sharif 2013 elections and asked for his unconditional support against Iran and later Qatar but in both cases Sharif ditched them as he preferred to remain on the same page qw the Army. Hence the revenge by the Saudis.
As far as Shahbaz Sharif is concerned he doesn’t carry any Arab baggage. He always looked east for his politics and development projects in Punjab and it is widely believed that he is more popular in Beijing than he is in Punjab. So if he aligns himself with GHQ and CPEC firmly, he can lead a party that is substantially intact.
History tells a different story. When Nawaz Sharif was overthrown by Pervez Musharraf in 1999, overnight the party slipped out of his hands and was transformed into PML-Q (Quaid-i-Azam) under the leadership of old companion and ally Ch. Shujaat Hussain and the watchful eyes of rhwmilitary and its leader Musharraf. If they want to stop a repeat of the events, then Shahbaz Sharif and people like Ch Nisar would have to use all their good offices with the GHQ to have a meaningful contest in the next elections.
Also there are clear indications that along with Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari too will not be allowed to contest the next elections. Since PPP is already out of reckoning in Punjab, there is no way they could form the government at the centre. However, for their Sindh politics Bilawal Bhutto will be acceptable to establishment and it would be made very clear to Zardari to stay away from politics during the election season.
Also the next roadmap doesn’t look like having any space for the so-called MQM-Pakistan of Farooq Sattar and company. They’ll be thrown out and Karachi will be open to all political entities. However, political forecasting in a country like Pakistan is not something one should earn his bread and butter from.
(Mohammed Rizwan is a senior journalist from Pakistan)