ISLAMABAD (AP) – Months of economic unrest in Pakistan were shrouded in days of tense drama. When the week ended, one of the country’s most charismatic prime ministers was ousted, and replaced by a member of a prominent political dynasty.
And this turmoil is not over yet, which could have an impact on the entire region.
Veteran politician Shahbaz Sharif, brother of a disgraced former prime minister, took oath on Monday that he will lead a coalition government of different parties ranging from leftist to radical religious. They also have a history of rivalry, and ruling will not be easy.
Sharif replaces Imran Khan, a beloved cricket star-turned-conservative Islamist politician who was toppled by a no-confidence vote after a fight in Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
Here’s a look at what happened and what could happen next:
What led to the change?
On 3 April, Khan bypassed an early no-confidence vote demanded by the opposition by dissolving parliament and calling early elections. The opposition, which accused Khan of financial mismanagement, appealed to the Supreme Court. It ruled that Khan’s move was illegal and the no-confidence vote went ahead early Sunday, removing him from power.
Khan has tapped into anti-American sentiment in Pakistan since 9/11, accusing Washington of conspiring with its opponents because of its independent foreign policy. The US State Department denies any involvement.
Still, the change in government could be good news for the US, whose chaotic departure from neighboring Afghanistan amid the Taliban takeover has left Washington in need of allies in the region.
Who makes the government now?
The new government is a conglomeration of different parties, which have fought each other vehemently.
The eldest are Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by the son and husband of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Both are family-run and family-oriented, pose no challenge to leadership.
The third largest partner is the pro-Taliban and hardline religious Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan or the gathering of clerics. Its religious schools are spread to the northwest, not far from the Afghan border, and have supplied troops to the Afghan Taliban and the native Pakistani Taliban. There is also a family dynasty led by JUI leader Fazal-ur-Rehman.
There have been allegations of corruption against the leadership of all the three parties. It also includes Sharif, who was to be framed on Monday on charges of money laundering. They dismiss the allegations as politically motivated.
They joined forces to oust Khan, but there is little politically other than an agenda of changing election laws and reorganizing constituencies to improve their chances in the next election, which is 2023. Should be by summer. They too are united against a return to Khan, who seeks to end Pakistan’s dynastic politics. There is no guarantee that their shared agenda will keep them together.
Buoyed by nationwide rallies, which brought hundreds of thousands of his supporters on Sunday, Khan also wants early elections through the “power of the streets”. This can lead to violence, as their base is mostly made up of a passionate young generation.
Even though the opposition ousted him, citing economic mismanagement, it is not clear whether the new government has an easy solution.
What will be the impact of the change in US policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan?
Asked whether Pakistan would assist the US with territorial rights after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Khan said: “Absolutely not.” Stating that his country would only “participate in peace, but not in war.”
He was a fierce critic of the US war on terrorism after 9/11, a stand that resonates with many in Pakistan who feel he has been unjustly targeted and has been criticized by Washington for 20 years. It has been accused of “not doing enough” to deter the Taliban during the U.S. war. Afghanistan.
According to Khan, about 80,000 Pakistani civilians were killed in terrorist attacks as a result of the war, and about 5,000 Pakistani soldiers were killed, even though no Pakistanis or Afghans were involved in the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda. Its leader, Osama bin Laden, found a safe haven in Afghanistan to plot the attacks and was killed while hiding in Pakistan in 2011.
Khan has denied the US any access to Pakistani territory or airspace for so-called “over-the-horizon” attacks on Islamic State targets in Afghanistan. This strategy allows the US to keep its forces out of Afghanistan by using air power to strike terrorist targets where they find them.
US President Joe Biden has not held calls with Khan since his election, attributing conspiracy theories to the rift between Islamabad and Washington. Khan says the US wants a “subordinate” Pakistan and opposes its cordial relations with China and Russia.
Khan’s government pushed for the world to engage more with the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan and resisted US efforts to punish them. Khan had deeply criticized Biden’s decision to keep $3.5 billion in Afghanistan’s reserves in the US for the families of 9/11 victims.
While Pakistan resisted recognizing the Taliban under Khan, it led efforts to steer the world in that direction. He justified some of the Taliban’s restrictive rules, such as prohibiting education on tradition and culture for girls from sixth grade onwards. This angered many people, even in Afghanistan.
Washington is likely to find more willing and like-minded partners among the new government to deal with Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers.
What are the economic problems ahead?
The opposition said that with inflation and rising energy prices, Khan has failed to manage the economy properly.
He tried to cut the price of gas at the pump by 10 Pakistani rupees (a few US cents) last month, but it is almost certain that his successors will have to increase them again. Pakistan is also a net importer of oil and gas from Russia, which is waging war in Ukraine.
The new prime minister’s family controls one of Pakistan’s biggest business houses, the owner of sugar and steel mills. Sharif’s victory strengthened the Pakistani rupee from $86 to $82, and the troubled Karachi Stock Exchange posted modest gains.
Khan’s government was praised internationally for its management of the coronavirus pandemic with a “smart lockdown” that protected the vital construction industry, which provides jobs to the poorest. His anti-corruption reputation encouraged Pakistanis to send money abroad, returning $29.4 billion in 2020-21. This amount is expected to reach $31 billion in 2021-22.
But the economic future still looks bleak: The Islamic Development Bank expects Pakistan’s GDP to drop to 4% from 5.6% last year, and inflation expected to rise from 8.9% in 2021 to about 11% this year. Is.
follow kathy gannon on twitter