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Younger Sharif in trouble?

After a decade of governing Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif is all set for his next destination: Islamabad. Whether his party, which is facing both internal and external challenges, will be able to win enough seats on July 25 to form the next federal government remains unclear. Yet whatever happens one thing is certain: the younger Sharif will play the role of formidable foe to Imran Khan when Pakistanis go ballot-boxing in just over month. Indeed, the PMLN is playing the ‘performance’ card against the relatively inexperienced PTI supremo and his party’s rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But this is where things begin to get a little tricky. Imran’s appeal is based on his clean, corruption-free image. Many voters are willing to give him a chance as opposed to a party that has a wealth of experience managing Punjab and thrice ruled the country.
Shehbaz Sharif’s image has received a major setback with ongoing investigations before both the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Supreme Court; the latter being where the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) has posed a number of tough, if at times slightly little awkward, questions. For instance, the Saaf Pani project — an unmitigated disaster — has been a source of embarrassment with millions spent without results. Similarly, the CJP has raised populist questions about the decision to pay hefty salaries to handpicked officials and company employees while the civil service largely remains underpaid. Shehbaz’s son has also been booked in a case where his former wife complained of maltreatment at the hands of the Sharif family. Thus the road ahead for this political dynasty will remain problematic to say the least.
That being said, Shehbaz Sharif, in all fairness, needs to be commended for his efforts in launching and completing large-scale infrastructure projects such as the metro bus and orange rail. Though these have entailed massive environmental and social costs despite strong public support. Nevertheless, compared to other provinces, Punjab remains better governed and the Shehbaz model now represents a touchstone of sorts for others.
Yet the outgoing Chief minister must introspect when it comes to his over-reliance on bureaucracy, which has landed him in trouble.
The paradigm that uses career civil servants as loyalist deliverers of development is essentially a flawed one. For the latter is a political process and, as such, needs to be managed through local governments, parliamentary consensus and public engagement. These are some of the lessons that the younger Sharif should take with him if he escapes the accountability net and makes it all the way to Islamabad post-July 25.
By now it should be quite clear to Shehbaz that the gathering storm around the familial dynasty will not leave him unscathed. His desire to work with unelected national institutions is commendable but has no hope of succeeding given that his older brother, the former Prime Minister, has adopted a confrontational approach that is also garnering some level of traction within the hardcore PMLN vote bank. Aside from governance lessons, the younger Sharif needs to recognise the difficulties ahead and recalibrate his political strategy.



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