Once again, a number of notable events allow us to address the situation in and around Pakistan. Both what happened recently and what is expected to happen in the near future. Among these, of course, the most important is the factor of the forthcoming general elections to the country’s parliament. The term of its current membership expires at the end of the summer, but the exact date of the procedure for electing a new one has not yet been determined. There is only talk of “October” or simply “the end of the year”.
The main attraction of this upcoming event is the participation of the leadership of the Pakistan Movement for Justice (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), especially its leader Imran Khan. Let’s recall that from the summer of 2018 until April 2022, the PTI coalition ruled the country, with Imran Khan as prime minister at the time.
Not touching on the formal and legal correctness of his removal from power, carried out by his political opponents, first and foremost the Pakistan Muslim League (N), led by the Sharif clan, we would only reiterate that since then, the question of the return of PTI and its leader to the levers of state government has been the main content of the actually begun pre-election struggle.
The same factor stimulates the process of internal political turbulence, in which periodically there are particularly acute outbursts. The most recent of these occurred on May 9, when riots broke out in a number of cities in Pakistan, accompanied by pogroms and arson of government buildings, as well as personal possessions of members of the current leadership of the country (including senior army commanders, which is important to stress).
There were two immediate reasons for the riots and the related acts of vandalism. First, the impossibility of carrying out the Supreme Court’s May 14 decision to call early elections in two provinces (Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), ruled by the PTI, whose MPs had earlier departed the local legislatures, became clear. Secondly, during the trial on one of Khan’s corruption charges (of which there are already several dozen), there was a rumor that he had been detained by the security services and could possibly be murdered.
The turmoil reached such proportions that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who was at the time abroad (on official business as a guest at the coronation of the new monarch of the United Kingdom), was forced to return home at short notice. Although the main purpose of this trip was undoubtedly to negotiate with his own older brother, Nawaz, who is the founder of the current ruling party, as evidenced by the presence of the letter “N” in its name.
Nawaz Sharif, who has been in London as an émigré since November 2019 (for the stated reason of “improving his health,” although a possible prosecution for the unavoidable corruption charges is also mentioned), and who previously served as prime minister three times, retains considerable popularity among the Pakistanis. The leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), apparently, sees it as an important resource in the fight against opponents in the upcoming elections.
Speaking in mid-June at a meeting of the governing body of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), Shehbaz Sharif expressed the hope that his elder brother would soon return both to the country and to the position of leader of the party he had created. And also, eventually, to the position (for the fourth time) of Prime Minister. What was implied, of course, was the expectedly successful outcome of the upcoming election for the MNL (N). And also the fact that all the legal obstacles in regards to the participation of Sharif Sr. were removed this year by presidential decree.
Immediately after this party event, the current prime minister went anew on an overseas tour (in fact, he resumed the interrupted one), during which one of his points of visit was London, once again. His regular meeting with his older brother took place there. After that, the latter flew to Dubai, where his own daughter Maryam, who is vice-president of the same Pakistan Muslim League (N) and one of the brightest public speakers of this party, was waiting for him. Apparently, during the meeting, she received, from what’s called “a primary source,” all the necessary information about the strategies developed by her father and her uncle (who remained in London) in preparation for the upcoming elections.
It should be noted that the main target of the oratory of the daughter of the eldest of the Sharifs is Imran Khan, whose current position, as well as the party he leads, is not to be envied. He is directly accused by his opponents of preparation for the May 9 riots, which fall under serious criminal charges. As a result, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that Khan and the PTI, which he heads, will participate in the upcoming elections.
As has always been the case in difficult times for Pakistan, the army high command emerged in the scene, and early this year it underwent personal changes. Despite the fact that, as before, the military constantly speaks of its noninterference in internal political affairs, their sharp deterioration has apparently led to the emergence of differences among senior officers in their preferences concerning the main political forces.
It was officially revealed at the end of June that a group of senior commanders, including roughly ten generals, had been assigned to a court martial. The grounds presented for the current far-reaching crackdown, which the Pakistani army has not used in a long time, appeared rather vague, but they are certainly related to the events of May 9. And, as previously stated, the former prime minister and the party he heads are directly accused of arranging the latter, therefore their perspectives take on a very negative image.
It should be pointed out that the current intensified inter-party (rather, inter-clan) squabbles are superimposed on the country’s extreme and almost objective problems, which the NEO has discussed more than once. Their acuteness and gravity have prompted analogies to the situation in Pakistan in the early 1970s, when the eastern province (now Bangladesh) seceded from the country.
The main issues mentioned above were outlined by the acting prime minister during his speech at the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact, held in Paris on June 22-23, initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Let us point to the most urgent of these issues, related to the prospect of a sovereign default of the country. A more modern (one year old) analogy to the situation in Sri Lanka is used. For about a year now, negotiations have been underway with the IMF to obtain a tranche in order to at least service the national debt. The most recent round of negotiations between IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took place in Paris on the sidelines of the aforementioned “Summit,” and the results of this round were deemed “fruitful” by her. It is reported that the draft state budget for next year is formed in accordance with the requirements of the IMF. Well known and always very tough on government spending.
The extreme, we repeat, urgency of solving the financial problem with the help of the IMF and Islamabad’s search for support from Washington and London in this, as well as the stay of prominent Pakistani political exiles in the UK, are often seen as evidence of a “shift to the West” in Pakistan’s foreign policy.
In the author’s view, however, the almost continuous Sino-Pakistani contacts, in which Islamabad invariably confirms its participation in the key Chinese Belt and Road Initiative project in general and its “Pakistani offshoot,” in particular, are much more significant. On June 21, a bilateral agreement on the “immediate start” of construction of Unit 5 of Chashma Nuclear Power Plant in Punjab province was reached, as announced by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Since 2000, China has already built four power units at this nuclear power plant. Pakistan will receive a $4.8 billion loan to create the 5th unit.
On the margins of the Paris “Summit”, Shehbaz Sharif met with his Chinese counterpart Li Qiang, who was making his first trip abroad (since his appointment as prime minister in March of this year) to Germany and France. During the talks, the parties reaffirmed their readiness to continue the implementation of all previously concluded joint projects. In doing so, the Pakistani prime minister reproduced the well-established formula of “all-weather and ironclad” friendship between the two countries.
Finally, let us note the beginning of supplies of Russian oil to Pakistan, which, of course, cannot be welcomed by the “West”. By the way, during an intermediary stop in Baku during the latest foreign tour of the Pakistani prime minister, the guest tested his knowledge of the Russian language at a meeting with the Azerbaijani president.
Both opposing political groups in Pakistan are guided solely by the interests of their own country. The acuteness (if not the critical state) of the situation is due to competitive political ambitions in relation to each other.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”