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Election 2024: a new Sharif era?

Since Imran Khan’s mess-ups are not as forgivable as the wrongs done by Nawaz Sharif circa 99 (and even circa 2017-18), the rejuvenation of the Sharif family’s era becomes an obvious choice for society. The media believes that the country’s next leader’s name is now set in stone and that Takht-e-Lahore will move from Zaman Park to Model Town.

In summation, the country’s direction will be determined by the relationship between the Sharifs and the powers that be and are. And all externalities have become incongruous, and the noise of Imran and Bilawal will slowly fade away making way for the Sharifs. Balochistan’s changing dynamics are a sign that we are going to see another era of the Sharifs.

Pakistanis have this tendency of believing in the concept of the availability heuristic – whatever comes to our minds is whatever we deem to be significant. So our thoughts say that Imran Khan will face more legal trouble which will lead to media trouble and eventually electoral trouble as well.

Before elections, he will get another firm judgment, extending his stay in jail for a long time – at least until February 2024 when we are likely to see the Sharifs standing on the balcony of their Model Town office/house. We are likely to see Nawaz Sharif holding the hands of Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, confirming his brother’s PM and Maryam’s Punjab CM seats.

We also believe that as soon as Shehbaz Sharif’s economic policies and decisions start a cycle of inflation, Imran Khan will find a way to leave the country for a few years. We also believe that Sindh will remain with the PPP, and the PTI will continue to serve its third consecutive term in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). This is a perfect picture for the media and public because this serves along the lines of what we saw happen to the PML-N circa 2018.

We have a very important election coming up and all soothsayers think that the era of the Sharifs has started, and it is about to end the politics of Imran Khan where the PPP will stay confined to whatever they already have in terms of their electoral strength. This is the perfect picture in our minds and everyone is ready for it.

However, history doesn’t always – and most certainly in the case of Pakistan – repeat itself in the exact same way. We all might be right in assuming that the Sharifs are about to get power, but what we do not see is the way things are going to follow after that. The zeitgeist in Pakistan isn’t the economy but globally shifting political spectrums.

China has a debt problem which will explode in 12-18 months. The US will be forced to raise rates and strengthen the dollar again because of the impact of the Ukraine and Gaza wars. Russia seems to be handling the war pretty well, but the heavy defence bill, inability to connect with SWIFT and mounting internal debt payments are stretching them as well.

India’s economy has done really well, but a slowdown is expected pretty soon. Our friendly and ‘brotherly’ Arab countries are struggling to find a balance between their need to expand and their public’s demand of showing empathy to Palestine. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are pretty much in the same boat.

The UAE’s recent change in flow of capital from productive businesses to real-estate is going to pressure their housing (asset price and rental rates) sector which will force them to reduce the flow of foreign human capital. Qatar has recently overspent on a World Cup and their refusal to honour liquor-related contracts have made them weak.

Overall, the global picture is bleaker and not appropriate for how we operate and that will push the Sharifs into a corner. When the Sharifs will start their reign, Daronomics is likely to help us reduce the USD-PKR rate – around Rs265-270 per dollar – but the IMF’s changing negotiation style will bring it back up. Petrol prices will go up and so will our capacity payments and Mian Sahib’s desire to build infrastructure will face a reality check.

There are three ways the Sharifs can move forward: First, introduce the much-needed reforms and try to gain public trust at a cost of political capital. For the next few years, stay conservative in their fiscal policy and try to catch up in the last two years.

Second, try to think that they are geniuses and this will be a piece of cake only to find out that Dar cannot operate in his low liquidity situation and bring us back to the ‘dharna’ days but in a different form of conflict.

Third, make a coalition government and try to get everyone on board (except the PTI and the PPP) to try and slowly push through.

In all of these cases, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s personal image and legacy will get ruined because people will think he also fell in the same trap Imran did in 2018.

His not directly being prime minister means the Shehbaz Sharif era will be friendlier with the establishment and it will further hamper Mian Nawaz Sharif’s legacy. All these issues point to a lot of possibilities but all lead to the labelling of Mian Nawaz Sharif a certain way and that is not good for the Sharifs and even Pakistan for that matter.

Farrukh Javed Abbasi, "Election 2024: a new Sharif era?," The News. 2023-11-29.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political capital , Elections , Economics , Shehbaz Sharif , Maryam Nawaz , Pakistan , PPP , PTI