The prime minister’s follies – Pakistan



Shehbaz’s missteps, many of which are quite amateurish in nature, have plunged PML-N’s prospects, much like those of Pakistan, into the dark.

Pakistan’s strategic planners have been searching for pliant governments for years, if not decades. One such plan was to insert Shehbaz Sharif, the current prime minister of Pakistan, into the prime minister’s office back in the late 1990s — this has been a documented fact, including in Nasim Zehra’s must-read book From Kargil to the Coup.

Today, almost 25 years later, the junior Sharif is firmly seated in the prime minister’s office. The desired outcome, however, remains a pipe dream as Pakistan literally and figuratively plunges into darkness.

Much can be said and written about how and why running a province — one as populated as Punjab — is a totally different thing from running a country. But the prime minister’s problems emanate less from the difference in governing Lahore and Islamabad and more with his own missteps, many of which are quite amateurish in nature.

fuel subsidy announced by the outgoing prime minister and his government. But instead of acting at the proverbial “Shehbaz Speed” for which he is known, the prime minister decided to go slow. This meant that the crisis both worsened — it dug a deeper fiscal hole for the government — and the price hike became Sharif’s problem.

Once the decision to make difficult choices and bring the IMF programme back on track was made, Sharif floundered again, this time failing to assert his authority on his own party members.

Sitting in London, Ishaq Dar began undermining his own party’s finance minister, giving regular interviews and indirectly influencing a public discourse that undermined the ruling party’s economic decision-making. Not only did this undermine confidence in the economy and the authority of the man running the economy, it also brought to the forefront the internal divides within the PML-N.

Regular huddles in London, many in person at Nawaz Sharif’s own residence, showed the entire world that the shots were being called not by the prime minister, but by his elder brother. This reinforced the view that the PML-N was not on the same page in terms of how to emerge from the crisis. Furthermore, it gave an opening to Imran Khan and his followers, who rightfully argued that running a sovereign country facing multiple crises via London was an abomination.

This deference ultimately led to the ouster of Dr Miftah Ismail and the insertion of Ishaq Dar into the finance ministry — a tragic choice that has exponentially worsened the crisis facing Pakistan’s economy.

As the political drama heated up, with Imran and his supporters threatening dissolution of the provincial assemblies in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, one would have expected that the prime minister — a man who has ruled Punjab for years — would step up to the plate and directly oversee and execute his party’s Punjab strategy to counter Imran. But common sense measures were to be ignored again, with the Sharifs outsourcing the politicking to Rana Sanaullah and others.

All this while, Hamza Shehbaz, the prime minister’s son and opposition leader in Punjab, stayed abroad along with Maryam Nawaz. This undermined the party’s political strategy in Punjab, leading to a dramatic political loss as Imran succeeded in achieving his near-term political goals in the province.

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