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Explained: The road that Shehbaz Sharif needs to take

Pakistan's new government has inherited multiple challenges. Delivery on these challenges will be very critical else it may result in early elections which will be more advantageous to Imran Khan, says Pakistan observer Maj Gen Ashok Kumar (retd)

Explained challenges before Pakistan prime minister Shehbaz Sharif
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New Delhi, First Published Apr 13, 2022, 9:59 AM IST

After months of twists and turns in its political affairs, Pakistan has a new Prime Minister in Shehbaz Sharif. But, experts say, the political uncertainty in Pakistan may be far from over even though the Shehbaz-led alliance managed to counter the former prime minister's legal and constitutional shenanigans.

The new coalition, which came into power, was formed with a common agenda to overthrow Imran Khan from power. Since it is an umbrella of socialists, liberals and religious hardliners, experts doubt that the coalition would function smoothly. 

Shehbaz Sharif, who has had a long political career and was chief minister three times, has inherited some daunting challenges like a deteriorating economy, resurgence of militancy, rising political turmoil and deteriorating relations with the West and neighbouring India.

However, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wished Shehbaz on becoming the 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan. 

In a tweet, he said, "Congratulations to H. E. Mian Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif on his election as the Prime Minister of Pakistan." He also said his government desires peace and stability in a region free of terror so that we can focus on our development challenges and ensure the well-being and prosperity of our people.
  
Asianet Newsable spoke to Pakistan observer Major General Ashok Kumar (Retd) to understand the dynamics that came in view of the ouster of Imran Khan and the arrival of Shehbaz Sharif in Pakistan's governance. 

"Shehbaz Sharif assumed the charge of Pakistan after multiple attempts by Imran Khan to cling to power. While this may be a cause of celebrations for the opposition, the new government has inherited multiple challenges. Delivery on these challenges will be very critical else it may result in early elections which will be more advantageous to Imran Khan," Maj Gen Ashok Kumar (retd) said. 

Economy

People in Pakistan are massively suffering and the country is gravitating toward the Sri Lankan condition unless corrective measures are instituted. Low per capita income, low rate of saving and the high fiscal deficit has worsened the economic condition of the country. There is record inflation in the country. 

In fact, as per the State Bank of Pakistan, the country had one of the highest inflations in the world in 2020 and that is still affecting the common man. Even as of now, the inflation is over 10 per cent and a number of items are costlier by almost 10 times as compared to India, breaking the back of the common man. 

Pakistan's obsession with Kashmir and regressive approach has resulted in absence of direct trade with India which could have helped it to address some of its concerns and ease inflation. 

Despite the military being favourable to trade with India, Imran Khan was obstructing it. Though the new Prime Minister has also started his innings by raising the Kashmir issue and making that a pre-condition for normalization of relations with New Delhi to save his population from suffering. 

Pakistan has also been debt trapped by China by means of the CPEC corridor and Belt Road Initiative and will collapse the way Sri Lankan has unless this danger is recognized, and corrective measures are taken. With Arab aid and IMF loans being difficult, Pakistan must learn to start on its own feet. 

Western borders under stress  

The hope of a favourable response from the Taliban after its takeover of Afghanistan has been dashed. The sanctity of the Durand Line has been breached and Pakistan's strategic depth has shrunk forever. 

Failed relationship with the TTP and resurgence of the Baluchistan fighters have forced a substantial chunk of defence forces to be committed on Western borders. The new government has to carefully handle these historical and current challenges. 

Relations with the United States

The United States has been known to be in a relationship with a country when it serves its national interests. After withdrawal from Afghanistan and the unparalleled close relationship of Pakistan with China, the US has no utility over Pakistan. 

Imran Khan went overboard to be in Russia-cum-China camp and blamed the US government for his removal from power despite the military being favourable to the US, the new government must balance its relationships with the US while being close to China. Diplomatic excellence emulating India will be needed. 

Relations with Russia-China

Though Pakistan is fully entrenched with China not only for financial assistance but also for its entire military hardware, China finds the present PM more amenable as compared to Imran Khan as he had demonstrated outstanding administrative capabilities towards Chinese projects as the Chief Minister of Punjab province. 

Initial overtures towards Russia will also need to be calibrated by the current government. 

While Pakistan's new prime minister has inherited multiple challenges including overpopulation, corruption, increasing fault lines between rich and poor, challenges to handling IMF conditions for future loans, steps needed to come out of the grey list of the FATF and enhance its cooperation with most of the relations, there are multiple opportunities as well. 

If the current Prime Minister handles some of these challenges, he will be entrenched for his next term as well. India can be a problem-solver in the majority of the cases if he shows some statesmanship.

Also Read: Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif abolishes two weekly offs in govt offices, changes opening time

Also Read: Shehbaz Sharif 'drops mic' with his hand movements, netizens can't keep calm

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