With Shehbaz Sharif as PM, Pakistan set for ‘roller coaster’ ride: What it means for India

In a significant political development in Pakistan, two major parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have agreed to form a coalition government. However, the PPP has said that its support will be conditional, reviewing decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Driving the news

  • The PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and the PML-N, led by three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif, announced late Tuesday night that they had reached a power-sharing agreement.
  • The PPP will not take cabinet positions, but will vote for the PML-N’s prime minister candidate, Shehbaz Sharif, younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, who is also in prison on corruption charges.
  • The PPP will also seek the offices of president, chairman of the upper house of parliament, and governors in two of the four provinces, its secretary of information, Faisal Karim Kundi, told Reuters.

By the numbers

  • The PML-N won 79 and the PPP won 54 seats in the 342-member parliament, making a simple majority of 172 seats to form a government.
  • They will also rope in smaller parties in the coalition, such as the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Balochistan National Party (BNP).
  • Candidates backed by Imran Khan won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government. He and his party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging.

Why it matters

  • The agreement between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is based on conditional support from the former, which will review decisions on a case-by-case basis, a top PPP official said.
  • This could make life difficult for the government, which needs to take tough decisions to steer the country out of a financial crisis and face a strong opposition bloc led by supporters of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan.
  • On the road ahead for the next government, political commentator and author Ayesha Siddiqa told Reuters: “It will be, of course, a roller coaster.”
  • The most challenging task for the coalition will be to agree on critical fiscal tightening conditions under a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, which expires in March.
  • Other big moves include privatization of loss-making state-owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which the PPP opposes and the PML-N supports.

What’s next

  • Parliament will elect the prime minister on February 25, followed by the president and the chairman of the senate.
  • Meanwhile, the political landscape remains fraught with tension as Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which won 93 seats, has rejected the election results, claiming widespread rigging.
  • This dispute adds to the country’s political instability, with PTI demanding the resignation of the Election Commission’s head and accusing rival parties of stealing their mandate.

What it means for India

  • During the campaign, former PM Nawaz Sharif emphasized the importance of mending and enhancing Pakistan’s relations with its neighboring countries, questioning the feasibility of achieving global recognition amidst regional discord.
  • “How can you achieve a global status when your neighbours are upset with you, or you are with them? We have to fix our affairs with India and Afghanistan as well, [and] strengthen them further with Iran and China,” Nawaz said.
  • As per a Dawn report, Nawaz reminisced about the visits of two Indian Prime Ministers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 and Narendra Modi in 2015, during his party’s rule, questioning, “Did anyone come before them?”
  • “God willing, we will have better relations with our neighbors,” Nawaz said during the counting of votes.
  • Ajay Bisaria, the former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, told DW that New Delhi’s approach towards Pakistan is based on realistic assessments rather than idealistic expectations.
  • But he emphasized, “India has no illusions that the army in Pakistan would determine policy towards India.” He further noted, “Any civilian government in the current state of play will have only a marginal say on India policy, but the Sharifs clearly have a better track record on reaching out to India than Imran Khan in his three-year PTI government.”

(With inputs from agencies)

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