The success of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N party in the recent elections to the legislative assembly in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir has given him a boost at a time when there are fears for the future of his government.
Sharif’s absence from Pakistan for medical treatment in the UK coincided with a furore over the Panama Papers leaks, in which his three children were named as owners of offshore assets. The opposition, spearheaded by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, have been demanding an inquiry while the government has so far successfully resisted any such move.
Political observers say the military high command is now putting pressure on the Sharif government with the help of opposition parties. Already it has cleaned its stables with a token sidelining of generals accused of corruption. Now, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif wants the government to do the same. But Sharif is resisting this, because many of those under fire are his strong supporters.
The question most people ask is how long the government will be able to withstand this pressure. Khan has announced his party will organise a sit-in from August outside the offices of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the anti-corruption watchdog. It helps that the NAB chairman has gone after politicians in the past year following a go-ahead from the military high command.
Waiting in the wings is Tahir-ul Qadri, the cleric whose supporters teamed up with Khan for the 2014 Islamabad dharna which nearly brought down the Sharif government. Qadri is back from Canada, where he is based, for another round of political confrontation.
This time, however, it is not just Khan’s party and Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek that will be protesting. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari too has announced his Pakistan People’s Party, whose following exceeds the combined strength of the PTI and PAT, will protest against the government over what he calls “rigging and strong arm tactics” in the PoK elections.
In 2014, the major parties stayed away from Khan’s dharna. The mood seems to have changed now as the government has not mended fences with its political allies and in many instances, antagonised them. Parties like the PPP also need a political movement to shore up support. In the past, Sharif and PPP leader Asif Zardari have mended fences after some bickering. Some say Bilawal is in no mood to make up with the Sharifs.
Either way, August will be a busy time for the Sharif government. Aside from political uncertainty, there is the growing confrontation between the army and the elected government over a number of issues, including corruption, foreign policy and terrorism at home. If these are not addressed, say some, the chances are the military will leverage opposition parties to oust Sharif in the months to come.