Pakistan will hold general election on July 25 and the election campaign for it is in full throttle. As of now, it is difficult to see which party will win the polls. The campaign looks evenly poised between the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and former cricket star Imran Khans Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. Despite court rulings against Sharif barring him from holding office for lifetime, his party won the recent by-elections. Sharif remains popular despite serious corruption charges against him and also despite his ongoing tussle with Pakistan Army. He recently courted a controversy by blaming Pakistani militants for carrying out Mumbai attack which killed 166 people. But going by the drift of the election campaign, Sharif doesn’t appear to be any less popular than his arch-rival Khan.
Khan, on the other hand, remains a formidable contender and seems to have the best odds to win the election. Khan, a legendary cricketer with a fan following beyond Pakistan’s borders, has made the fight against corruption his central election plank. And considering Sharif and many of his party leaders are mired in corruption charges, Khan’s message has better chance of resonating with people. Even the PPP, the other major political party headed by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari suffers from similar charges, making Khan the only politician with a clean image.
However, the election has a significance even beyond the curiosity of which among the three major parties comes to rule Pakistan. This will be only the second democratic transfer of power in the countrys history. And the new government will be charged with the onerous task of pulling the country out of its current tricky geo-political situation. Pakistan is under an intense pressure from the United States and many other western powers to clamp down on the extremist outfits in the country and alleged safe havens for Afghan Taliban within the country. The US has used every lever of power to force Pakistans compliance to its demand that the latter aid the defeat of Taliban in Afghanistan or bring it around to the negotiating table.
Similarly, Pakistan-India relations have plunged to their lowest low in the past four years. A few attempts at resumption of dialogue have fallen through following a terror attack at Pathankot airbase in 2015 by the alleged Pakistan-based groups. Over the past year, the growing animosity between the neighbours has led to a progressive escalation of tension along the Line of Control and the International Border. Soldiers and the civilians have died on both sides. There is every chance that the growing frequency of skirmishes along the border could lead to a bigger conflict between the two countries.
Third is the relations with China, Pakistans all-weather friend. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor have inextricably linked the two. Pakistan has also grown closer to Russia, Indias traditional friend. The regional geo-politics is thus undergoing a profound transformation which will change the way the countries will relate to one another.
The new Pakistani government will thus have to deal with all these fraught challenges. One could only hope that once a new Pakistan government is formed, the stalled dialogue between India and Pakistan resumes fast. The fast changing geo-politics of the region not only requires the two countries to meaningfully engage but also take concrete steps to address their long running issues, particularly the issue of Kashmir. That is the only guarantee for a sustainable peace in the region.
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