Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has taken charge of the prime ministerial office in Pakistan on August 1, but ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif continues to steer affairs of the government. That is why Abbasi is referred to as puppet prime minister. The former petroleum minister was installed by Sharif, who was disqualified and removed from the premiership by the Supreme Court on July 28 for being ‘dishonest’.
Abbasi, 58, is a seasoned politician from Rawalpindi; he is well-respected in the party – Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Following Sharif’s ouster, he was elected to head the parliament by thumping majority.
A staunch party loyalist, Abbasi’s rise to premiership came as no surprise. He has enjoyed a good track record, winning all the elections except in 1988. His father Khaqan Abbasi too was a minister.
Three days after Abbasi assumed control, a 43-member federal cabinet was announced; the names were finalised only after Sharif reportedly approved them. Most of the ministers from the Sharif’s cabinet retained their positions. So Sharif seemed to have pulled the strings.
There were only two major changes — Khawaja Asif has been named foreign minister and Ahsan Iqbal replaced Chaudhry Nisar Ahmad as interior minister. It is heartening to note that Pakistan finally has a foreign minister. The country did not have a foreign minister since 2013 as Sharif retained control of foreign affairs with the help of veteran advisor Sartaj Aziz.
The transition from Sharif to Abbas has been smooth, easing fears of disenchantment. Abbasi will have to eventually give way to Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz Sharif. But this move can be fatal for Sharif’s political future because it will expose his ‘distrust’ of other party leaders who in turn can cause damage by changing their loyalties. That can lead to a political crisis. So keeping Abbasi for 45 days as prime minister and then handing over the office to Shahbaz Sharif will not be a prudent move.
Abbasi’s acceptance speech was impressive. “I am the country’s prime minister — be it for 45 days or 45 hours — and am not here just to keep the seat warm. If I am here for 45 days, I will try to complete the amount of the work that requires 45 months.” These were words that inspired confidence in him.
Abbas should be allowed to continue, for Pakistan needs political stability to alleviate the economic situation and to overcome the power crisis. The focus should not be on changing the prime minister until the next elections in 2018. The current leadership should continue so that Pakistan can step efforts to uproot terrorism and improve relations with neighbours to achieve stability. At this time, the country cannot afford infighting on political fronts.
Ruling PML-N chief Sharif should throw his weight behind Abbasi and help him achieve the goals he had set for Pakistan to regain the confidence of voters.
Instead of working on plans to replace Abbasi with his brother Shahbaz, Nawaz Sharif should devise plans for Abbasi to work with the younger Sharif to complete the development projects.
This is the time for Sharif to show his political maturity. Instead of plotting to take revenge on his political rivals like Imran Khan, who launched the move that led to his disqualification, Sharif should focus on development projects so that his party can retain power in the next election.
Sharif should push his partymen to fulfil his party promises and bring relief to people by ensuring electricity, launching healthcare and educational projects. His party and government should create employment opportunities for youth so that they do not go astray.
PML-N should work with other political parties to avoid situations that lead to anarchy and unrest in the country. Or else undemocratic forces may take over and derail democracy again.
The ouster of Sharif is expected to strengthen the hands of Pakistan’s strong military establishment, because Sharif had the courage to take them on and even dared to improve relations with archrival India.
Sharif’s disqualification gave rise to a wrong notion that it would help Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan to sweep the next elections. What should be noted is that Sharif is very much in control of his party and his brother Shahbaz still rules the most populace province that holds the key to gaining power at the federal level. Neither Imran Khan nor the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has so far been able to cause any damage to Sharif’s political clout in Punjab. Politicians of other parties, including Imran Khan, too are in danger of being disqualified like Sharif for being ‘dishonest’ under the article 62,63 of the constitution of Pakistan.
With Sharif’s disqualification, the Pandora’s box has been opened. Many more are expected to face the same fate in the run up to the general elections. By then, many leading politicians are likely to be disqualified for living beyond their means and lying to the election commission about their assets. If it happens, then the field is wide open for the next elections. And who will win the elections could be anybody’s guess.