Nawaz Sharif will become Pakistan’s Prime Minister for the third time following that country’s elections over the weekend.
Sharif served as PM from 1990 to 1993 and again from 1997 to 1999. His second stint in office was cut short by Pervez Musharraf, who was his top general. Sharif spent many years in exile in Saudi Arabia before returning to Pakistan in 2007. Now the roles are reversed. Sharif is headed back to power while Musharraf is under house arrest.
It appears that Sharif will get a majority in Pakistan’s National Assembly. Should that fall through, he could broker a deal with cricket legend Imran Khan who finished second in election. However, Khan was seriously injured during a rally four days before the election when he and three others fell off a makeshift lift as they were being raised to the stage. Khan was hospitalized with head injuries but is in stable condition.
This election was historic for two reasons. First, it marks the first time that consecutive elections have taken place without military intervention. Second, Pakistan will see a transfer of power from one party to another (Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N)). The only question remains if it will be a peaceful transfer of power.
The PPP, which won the 2008 election, lost nearly 100 seats in the Pakistan National Assembly and Bhutto spent much of the election campaign in Dubai. The PPP lost popularity due to corruption and an inability to deliver government services. Being corrupt and incompetent is a fairly lethal combination to a party seeking re-election.
Yet the PPP’s poor performance could also be attributed to violence directed against it and other secularist leaning parties by the Taliban. While the Taliban targeted the PPP and other secularist leaning parties they left the PML-N and Khan’s Pakistan Movement for Justice alone. With Sharif back in power and Khan the leading opposition figure, the question is will Sharif and Khan give the Taliban carte blanc in exchange for having left their parties alone during the election. Sharif and Khan might also believe they would be in a better position to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Sharif did make a genuine effort to better relations with India during his stints in power in the ’90s but was thwarted by the military. My guess is that Sharif will not be eager to upset the military this time around.
Although Sharif was full of anti-American rhetoric during the campaign, he did have a cordial relationship with the first Bush Administration and with the Clinton Administration. Like most Pakistani politicians, Sharif is duplicitous telling Washington one thing while telling his followers in Lahore another thing. Of course, even if Sharif wanted to fully co-operate with the U.S., Pakistan’s military would stand in its way.
In the final analysis, not much will change. There will still be corruption and violence. Sharif will govern Pakistan no more competently than the Bhuttos. Meanwhile, Pakistan will still be an ally of the U.S., but not a very dependable one.
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