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Pakistan crisis will weaken Sharif's authority significantly

comment Updated: Aug 21, 2014 02:22 IST
Hindustan Times

The contrast between contemporary India and Pakistan could not be starker. There is a new government in New Delhi led by a strong political figure, promising the country better days through ambitious design, better execution of projects and regional connectivity.

Narendra Modi’s critics wonder if the results will match the rhetoric; they worry about institutions and minorities but few doubt his commitment to a development agenda. The Pakistani political class, on the other hand, seems to live in a parallel universe, relentlessly jousting for power while poverty, poor infrastructure, extremism, insurgency and poor human development indicators stare them in the face.

Recent days have seen more instability thanks to the antics of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Canada-based cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who have converged on Islamabad with their supporters to depose Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Mr Khan and Mr Qadri want Mr Sharif to resign for alleged voting fraud during the 2013 elections, which the latter’s party PML (N) won comfortably.

Mr Khan has been a controversial politician known for his strong anti-US views and support for the Taliban. His influence has surged over the last couple of years but many analysts feel that he has tarnished his brand with this round of protests.

Mr Khan has led his supporters to parliament, he has threatened to storm Mr Sharif’s house and was, at the time of going to press, hedging on the latter’s offer of talks.

The endgame is unclear. Mr Sharif is expected to hold on to power but this crisis will weaken his authority significantly. His tenure has been forgettable so far, marked by a failure to govern with the degree of urgency that Pakistan needs.

He does not take the National Assembly seriously and differs with the army over the insurgency in North Waziristan and on the issue of allowing former dictator Pervez Musharraf to return abroad.

Mr Sharif would have looked to the India relationship to shore up his position through greater land-based trade and improved energy supply. But India’s decision to call off foreign secretary-level talks has stymied such prospects and undermined his authority further.

An embattled Sharif will lose whatever leverage he has over foreign policy, yielding control to the Pakistan army.

India likely considers ongoing ceasefire violations along the Line of Control as proof that Rawalpindi is reasserting itself on India policy. A wounded Sharif will also be tempted to pander to his conservative base in Punjab and pursue a harder line on India. Grim days ahead.