Shehbaz Sharif's 16 Months In Government: An Obituary Of Civilian Rule

Shehbaz Sharif's 16 Months In Government: An Obituary Of Civilian Rule
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif flip-flopped through the economic mess left by Imran Khan’s government to finally surrender to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to avert an imminent default. Sharif’s focus remained on his pet construction projects, besides fiscal alms to show his magnanimity at the state’s expense. Indeed, he ran a ragtag coalition without any hassle.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) monopolised all major ministries, ones related to the economy in particular. Hence, the blame for inflation and economic slowdown goes to the PML-N, with dangerous consequences for the party in the next elections.

In a shameful reversal of political roles, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) betrayed its 26-point agenda of civilian supremacy, and failed to fill the subordinate-space forced to be left behind by the most favoured (لاڈلا) of the military establishment.

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Imran Khan having failed to retrieve his position as a protege of establishment has now turned into a rebel without a cause. On the other hand, the PDM and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are competing for positions in yet another farcical elections under the tutelage of the military establishment.

Shehbaz’s focus remained on his pet construction projects, besides fiscal alms to show his magnanimity at the state’s expense

The Sharif regime is distinguished by having meekly surrendered to the garrison’s writ all around. He helped engineer four coup d'états, which drastically reduced civilian space and civil liberties:

  • The first coup: under Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), over-riding federal ministries and discarding provincial autonomy (18th amendment); creating supra-constitutional bodies to handle foreign investment and broad range of economic ministries; ensuring one-window operation for the military’s takeover of all natural resources, agri-lands, minerals, water, power, energy, IT, AI, etc.

  • The second coup: surrendering parliament’s supremacy by acting as a rubber stamp on the military's General Headquarters directions; legislating laws without quorum and deviating from the constitutional spirit, such as caretaker powers, amendments in the Army Act, Official Secrets Act, Digital Media Law, Privatisation Law and PEMRA amendments.

  • The third coup: Council of Common Interest’s approval of the census that paved the way to postpone elections till re-demarcation of constituencies; steps against the fairness of elections by implicating the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman and activists in innumerable cases, both prima facie factual and false and empowering of hand-picked caretakers; efforts to embargo the PTI and its chairman.

  • The fourth coup: reducing civil liberties, freedom of expression and independence of media.

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This is how Shehbaz Sharif has emerged as a favourite future prime minister of the establishment. He is so proud of being an old protege. By doing all that was desired by the garrison state, Sharif has also preempted the chances of Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif or Maryam Sharif and Bilawal Zardari-Bhutto to seek premiership. It’s now a divide between pro- and anti-Imran Khan forces.

In this confrontation, if Shehbaz Sharif has buried the Charter of Democracy and the “vote ko izzat do” narrative, an illiberal populist Imran Khan is on a war path without an end at the end of the tunnel. The worst sufferers are democracy and the people without a fair chance of franchise.

The writer is a journalist, peace activist, and Secretary General of SAFMA.