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Pakistan on the brink

editorial 2

A political storm of sorts is likely to wait for Pakistan as its convicted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz are returning on Friday. They would face immediate arrest and imprisonment. The former prime minister has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in a case arising after the Panama Papers leaks revealed that Sharif’s family owned four undeclared apartments in London. The court also sentenced Maryam Nawaz, his daughter and political heir, to seven years in prison. . Sharif was in London with his wife, who is battling cancer, when he was convicted. The conviction of Sharifs shall have implications on elections as well as the party he heads Pakistan Muslim League-N is going to elections without star campaigners. The electoral battle is being fought for 342 seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly, the largest share being 183 seats from the populous Punjab province. Mr. Sharif’s P.M.L.N. won 188 seats in the 2013 elections. The Pakistan People’s Party was a distant second with 46 seats, and Mr. Khan’s P.T.I. won a mere 34 seats. Pakistan is going to elect a new government on July 25, a historic event that will mark the country’s second ever democratic transition of power. Four main contenders for power are Sharif’s party Muslim League-PML-N, former President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), cricketer-turned-politician Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) and a religious parties amalgam Muttahidah Majlis Amal (MMA). In absence of Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz Shrif, who has the experience of running the country’s biggest state Punjab for years, is the leading light and the probable Prime Ministerial candidate of his party. Shahbaz may not be matching the political profile of Nawaz Sharif but he is regarded as more shrewd and insightful than his brother. He is deemed as fully qualified to run the country if given a chance. Punjab, which forms more than half of the overall seats of the country’s parliament or National Assembly, is seen as the bastion of his party. Nawaz Sharif may be physically out of Pakistani elections but he is regarded as the main planner and schemer for Shahbaz to lead the nation. Sharifs are facing a tough challenge from Imran Khan’s PTI. Corruption is a major issue in Pakistan this time. While PML-N is quite infamous for holding record in corruption, Imran Khan too has got a major share of corrupt politicians in his party. But the Khan personally holding a clean image is making a difference in the two competing parties. Though the picture is yet hazy and nothing can be said with authority but Sharifs are still regarded as ahead of the captain as Imran Khan is known as, who is also reported to be having tacit support of the military establishment. PML-N is also reported to have enough support in Baluchistan as well. PPP, over the years, has now almost become a regional party with having its support only in Sindh province. It has still its ground in Sindh though; both, Imran Khan and Sharifs have made inroads in the province. The MMA has considerable support in Khaiber Pakhtunkhwa KPK). Imran Khan is also counting on support in the province. His party was in power in KPK in alliance with Jamaat-e-Islami. Regardless of who takes the charge of Islamabad, Pakistan is presently facing a barrage of problems that need immediate and serious attention. The economy is in total disarray with debt swelling. China and IMF have come to rescue but there’s a limit to everything. The Pakistani currency and economy both will need a decisive leader. Its foreign exchange reserves have dropped from 16 billion dollars to 9 billion in the last month. It is in essential need of a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, after the current account deficit doubled this year. What had added to its woes more is that the international money-laundering watchdog FATF has put Pakistan back on its “grey list”, for its “insufficient efforts to combat financing of terrorism”. And a financial slowdown could reduce the leeway to protect the country from a water crisis, or bolster decrepit hospitals and schools. With almost no foreign ministry functional in Pakistan for last few years, the Pak lobby in other countries finds no shelter. Even the Islamic organization too has denied support which says a lot about the leadership vacuum in the country. It is chance for Pakistan people to throw up a capable leadership that would take Pakistan out of the present mess.