Decisions taken today could shape the politics of the future for Pakistan
With 2018 coming to a close, there is increasing concern about the political scenarios that will unfold next year. There are several factors which could make 2019 a difficult year — both for Pakistan and its new government.
First and foremost is the economic crisis which manifested itself in several ways as soon as the new government took over in August. The chronic balance of payments issue got worse and the value of the Pakistani rupee experienced a steep fall leading to an increase in the prices of electricity and gas. All of these reasons resulted in a spiral of inflation.
As we enter 2019, there are clear signs that Pakistan might undergo one of the most difficult economic periods in the history of the country. Prime Minister Imran Khan has alluded to this scenario in several speeches and has asked the masses not to be overly bothered and to face the situation in a brave manner, assuring the population that things will improve eventually.
Unemployment is on a rise – hundreds, and probably thousands of journalists, who recently lost their jobs are the most visible manifestation of this issue. Will people be able to survive through the hard times or will the going get even tougher for them? A majority taking to the streets — enraged by inflation and unemployment — is the most dangerous scenario one can visualize for 2019.
Additionally, judgments in cases against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are expected to be taken by accountability courts in the last few days of this year. In one of the cases, which was decided a few months ago, Sharif, his daughter, and his son-in-law were sentenced to varying periods of imprisonment.
They are presently out of prison after the Islamabad High Court temporarily suspended their sentences. However, the Supreme Court is going to review the appeal against the suspension of the sentences in the next few days. Meanwhile, Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz’s younger brother and the former Chief Minister of Punjab – Pakistan’s largest province — is in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and facing corruption charges on multiple counts.
As we enter 2019, there are clear signs that Pakistan might undergo one of the most difficult economic periods in the history of the country.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob
Off late, the Sharifs have chosen to remain mum – a far departure from their loud anti-establishment election campaign. One reason could be that they do not want to upset the courts as they wait for the critical verdicts. However, how they or their supporters will react once the judgment is passed will also be a key determinant for the politics of 2019. The Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) leadership is also facing corruption charges and has made several appearances before the NAB, with strong indications that Asif Ali Zardari and his sister may also be taken into custody. Here too, the reaction of his party workers and those of officials from PPP’s Sindh government will also determine the politics of 2019.
Although the charges of rigging the general elections this year have taken a step back, for the time being, a parliamentary committee has been formed to probe the allegations nonetheless. Imran Khan had successfully drummed up massive public support for his party during the course of a vigorous campaign against the alleged rigging in the elections that took place in 2013. Therefore, the question remains — will the current opposition and several smaller parties follow in the footsteps of Imran Khan and create a real law and order situation for the government during 2019, too? No one can be certain, but this should be a cause for concern for those who have witnessed similar agitations destabilizing the government in 2014.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreef-e-Insaf (PTI) party has a razor-thin majority in the National Assembly (NA) and the Punjab Assembly. Furthermore, the governments at the center and in the Punjab province are dependent on several smaller parties. Only four months have passed since the formation of the new governments but murmurs of dissatisfaction from some allies such as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Balochistan National Party are already loud and clear. Will the PTI be able to maintain its allies’ trust and confidence in more difficult times ahead? The answer to this question is critical if its governments hope to continue running in the future.
Additionally, even though the PTI-led federal government was able to get only one bill passed from the NA during its first 100 days in office, it will definitely seek to push its reforms agenda through legislatures in the next few months. A lack of a majority in the Senate and a negligible majority in the NA, however, could pose major challenges. The PTI’s ability to forge a working relationship with the opposition will, therefore, be very critical for the success of its legislative ambitions.
The most important and deciding factor in terms of shaping the politics next year will be the state of the civil and military relations. The country is witnessing one of its best civil-military relations in decades at the moment. Despite several other concerns and pitfalls, if Imran Khan is able to maintain the smooth relationship with the military in the months and years to come, he may be able to go over the proverbial hump in 2019 with a lot of ease.
– Ahmed Bilal Mehboob is the president of Pakistan-based think tank, PILDAT.