Tuesday August 16, 2022

What is the PMLN after?

Shehbaz Sharif government is eagerly awaiting the success or failure of talks with the IMF in Doha.

May 23, 2022
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif chairing a meeting of party leaders in London. -Courtesy PML-N
PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif chairing a meeting of party leaders in London. -Courtesy PML-N

As Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has lobbied the US during his visit to nudge the IMF for a favourable deal, the dividends of his visit will likely come to the fore around May 25.

Bilawal Bhutto has reportedly asked the State Dept that the new government should not be held responsible for PTI government's agreement on commodity prices with the IMF. Since the US is the largest contributor to the IMF funds, its geopolitical consideration regarding Pakistan will be the key determinant in the IMF's new deal with Islamabad.

Shehbaz Sharif government is eagerly awaiting the success or failure of talks with the IMF in Doha. It has pushed the budget date to 10th of June. This has never happened before. If the deal is not favourable, the PMLN will likely have room to maneuvre, and after taking allies into confidence can quit government, paving way for a caretaker setup.

The PMLN is strongly weighing the prospects of legal difficulties after last week's optics of courts' appearances by PMLN's top leadership. PM Shehbaz Sharif and CM Hamza Shehbaz had to appear in three hearings in a single day. As they read the situation and weigh the mood of the courts, they fear PMLN Supremo Nawaz Sharif cannot come back. Party’s Vice President Maryam Nawaz is disqualified, and if PM Shehbaz Sharif and CM Hamza Shehbaz are disqualified, it will be a nightmare scenario for the PMLN to lead the party and form government in the future.

The Supreme Court's suo motu action on NAB and FIA appointments disillusioned the PMLN and forced it to re-think if the Shehbaz-led government will be able to deliver given the hurdles being propped up in its path for smooth functioning. This is one of the underlying reasons why PM Shehbaz Sharif is under huge pressure within the party to resign regardless of the IMF agreement on the commodity prices.

Curiously, the PMLN leadership believes that if Shehbaz Sharif resigns and the government is packed up, Pakistan cannot be saved from meeting the fate of Sri Lanka and it will go bankrupt.

They maintain that the powerful quarters cannot leverage Hafiz Sheikh and Raza Baqir-like economists to save Pakistan's economy from going bust: Rupee/dollar will cross the psychological barrier of Rs 200 mark; the IMF certificate may arrive after interim setup only, hence no money from friendly countries. It will thus raise a genuine risk of bankruptcy for Pakistan. Whether their assessment is true or not is a different matter.

Another thought in the PMLN is very interesting and that is its possibility of adopting a public narrative when it goes into an opposition/electioneering mood. The PMLN will have the narrative of conspiracy.

They will tell the public that they were not allowed to work in the government and their allies leaned on to destabilise the government. Thus, they will be putting all blame on the powerful quarters for the presumed ouster and economic difficulties of common people.

On the other hand, PMLN and PPP have converged not to let the PTI win seats in the next elections. To achieve this goal, both the parties have put in place their teams to cobble together an electoral alliance. Interestingly, PPP wants four seats in North Punjab and six in South Punjab, while PMLN seeks 10 seats from Sindh to prove itself being a countrywide political party and not a Punjab-centric party.

In Sindh, the PMLN wants those seats where the PPP has no majority but can give 20,000 to 30,000 votes to PMLN candidate if supported.

The PMLN expects free and fair elections, as paradoxically, both PMLN and PTI will have unanimity in blaming the powerful others for conspiracy not to let their respective government function. Thus, if fair elections are held, the PTI will be conveniently reduced to less than 50 seats as the contest will be between PMLN/PPP and PTI. For now, the Shehbaz-led government has pinned all hopes on the outcome of Bilawal Bhutto's US visit.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a politician from Balochistan and an ex-adviser to the Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He tweets @Jan_Achakzai