After a series of attempts to cling to power, now former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan was ousted from the office, and Mr Shehbaz Sharif was instated as the new Prime Minister. Amidst political turmoil and reputation as a country where no prime minister has ever completed a full term, Pakistan is also undergoing an economic and financial crisis while the balance of powers amongst institutions remains skewed in favour of the military.
Who is Shehbaz Khan and what does he bring to the table?
Shehbaz Khan, former Chief Minister of the province of Punjab, is the president of the main
opposition party Pakistan Muslim League(Nawaz). He is the younger brother of the former
Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from holding office for life by the Supreme Court. Born to a Punjabi-speaking Kashmiri business family in Lahore, he decided
to engage in politics like his brother Nawaz. Becoming a member of the Punjab Assembly in
1988 was the beginning of a political career that would span over three stints as the Chief
Minister and one as Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly.
When Nawaz’s government was toppled in 1999 due to a coup led by Pervez Musharraf, the
family was exiled to Saudi Arabia before finally returning in 2007. The brothers returned to
their former offices of prime minister and chief minister. Thus, Shehbaz Sharif has gradually risen in eminence, owing to his efficient governance and political capabilities.
Strengths and Stance
He has been seen particularly as a competent administrator and head, unlike former prime
ministers who drew strength from populist measures. He has executed a great number of
infrastructure development and transit projects and power plants in Punjab; amongst
they, the Metro Bus project and the rapid transit system are well known in the entire country. As a pragmatist, he has maintained close relations with Beijing in his previous tenures while recognizing the significance of the United States in the world order. He has cooperated and contributed to projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative and China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in his province as a chief minister. It is likely that these Chinese infrastructure projects would gain impetus under his leadership.
However, just like any other prime minister in Pakistan, his tenure has not been without its
share of controversy. The UK investigation agencies indicted Shehbaz and his son Hamza(then the Leader of Opposition in Punjab) on money laundering charges and froze their assets in 2019. Corruption charges were then filed in the country. The Britain agencies, failing to find substantial evidence, dropped the charges, but investigations persist at home. He spent several months in jail before finally getting bail in 2021. The case is likely to progress with renewed momentum now that Shehbaz has come under the limelight.
Shehbaz will face serious challenges on all fronts and how he deals with them will definitely
factor in how future events unfold. The country is facing a balance of payments crisis, rising
inflation, mounting debt, and high unemployment rates as intense dissatisfaction prevail
amongst the public. Under Imran Khan, relations with the US weren’t exactly amicable. This
is likely to change, as Shehbaz recently highlighted. Aside from these challenges, there is an
increase in the number of jihadist and terrorist attacks in the country with vigour as the
Taliban rule has been established in neighbouring Afghanistan. Unlike his predecessors, he
enjoys good ties with the military which holds great influence. However, these relations are
built on a shaky foundation and are easily perturbable.
Closer home, the diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan came to a standstill a few years
back and visa and trade restrictions on both sides have affected Pakistan’s economy.
Shehbaz has indicated a willingness to improve the relations between the two nations while
calling for a resolution of the Kashmir issue. India is likely to welcome this decision, but it will carefully observe the developments in the neighbouring country. It remains to be seen how Shehbaz deals with the Kashmir issue; will he raise claims to Kashmir or will he carefully broach the topic?
His abilities will now truly be put to test. His actions will have larger consequences, the
effects of which would extend beyond the domestic geographical boundaries to the electoral lines in the next elections, the frontiers of New Delhi, and world politics.