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New (Naya) Pakistan or more of the same?

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Amid exuberant calls of vote-rigging and protests seen in the recent elections in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) is poised to yet again become Prime Minister for a third time – his last two stints at the job were back in the 1990's. Nearly 14 years after being ousted from power by a military coup orchestrated by General Pervez Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif is being called the comeback kid by some political analysts. His main rival, former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), who many had hoped would breathe fresh life into a corrupt political system failed to mount a sizeable challenge against PML-N. However, Imran Khan was able to win provincial elections in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa making him the most likely nomination for the leader of the opposition in parliament.

Imran Khan's 'New (Naya) Pakistan' mantra and anti-establishment agenda that had invigorated the electorate, albeit with immense media hype and the support of the liberal elite in Pakistan is now destined to demise. Khan will be pushed into realpolitik mode to form a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and seek the coveted office in the National Assembly as the opposition leader. It will be interesting to note how Khan will maneuver and make deals with PPP or MQM to stave off their claims for position and power. Khan's credibility has already been tarnished by the appointments of so-called 'Lota politicians' within PTI ranks ('Lota politicians' – a pejorative term used for politicians who frequently change parties based on personal advantage. Lota is a vessel used to clean oneself after using the toilet). Such backtracking on principles is invariably part of the cut-throat politics of the secular political system of Pakistan.

Notably, Khan's victory in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – one of the most troubled parts of the country and an ungovernable region suffering through years of insurgency is a result of his pre-election claims to end military operations and calls for peace talks with the Taliban. Khan is in for a rude awakening because he will be unable to sway the political class in Islamabad who have colluded with Pakistan's top military brass to continue military operations in the region at the behest of Washington.

Nawaz Sharif, who ran on a pro-business platform, has no new ideas to solve the growing chaos within Pakistan of a declining economy, increased inflation, widespread unemployment, failing public enterprises, immense foreign debt and a crippling energy shortage. Rampant corruption and decades of successive incompetent governments shuffling between civilian and military rule has stifled the country. The same political players will take up key positions in the government and give credence to a political system that continues to produce the likes of Mr. 10% and Raja Rental.

However, the most bewildering nature of this election is that back in 1999, Pervez Musharraf was in power and Nawaz Sharif was in custody and now in 2013, Nawaz Sharif is in power and Pervez Musharraf is in custody. It seems that the same criminals keep taking turns to ruin (run) the nation. Both individuals have a litany of criminal cases against them ranging from tax evasion to treason.

Over the years the judiciary has turned a blind eye to corruption charges against the ruling elite whether they are among the civilian or military establishment. Only when there is a need to re-inject a sense of judicial functionality in the society or when it is politically motivated, the power of the judiciary is utilized as evidenced by the recent indictment of Musharraf. A new chief justice is to be appointed this year and if history is a lesson another scandal is awaiting in the future.

Another crucial appointment will be of a new chief of army staff, as General Ashfaq Kayani's term is to end later this year. Sharif has had a difficult history with the military establishment. Sharif, a seasoned politician is well aware that the power center lies with the military and he will have to tread carefully not to overreach his powers to bring the powerful military brass under civilian control. His influence on national security and foreign policy issues will be constrained.

Moreover, he will have to address a disgruntled populace that sees its civilian and military leadership increasingly subservient to Washington and complicit in the almost daily drone attacks within Pakistan. Anti-Americanism and increasing anger over NATO operations in Afghanistan is rife within the country. Congratulatory gestures from Washington and London and Nawaz Sharif's declaration of continued support for American policies in the region only cement a disconnect between a nation's sentiments and the ruling elite.

Sharif, Zardari, Musharraf, Kayani etc continue to claim that they will "save" the country – a delusional notion since it is these very individuals that have shoved the country on a path of self-destruction and disgrace. Additionally, a well oiled revolving door has been maintained by an inherited colonial political system that allows for such players to keep making their comeback and the destiny of the nation to be drawn up in Washington and London. Hence, the never ending saga of rampant corruption is set to continue. Unfortunately, New (Naya) Pakistan is on tracks for more of the same. A significant paradigm shift away from the secular political system is required in Pakistan to bring real and lasting change.

Dr. Syed Abdur-Rafay

05/13/2013

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