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Pakistan: they always come back
  • Shebbaz Sharif
    Shebbaz Sharif
It's official: Shahbaz Sharif is the new prime minister of Pakistan, elected by the House with 201 votes out of 293 total. Electing Shahbaz prime minister for the second time was once again a colorful Brancaleone army pompously referred to as the 'coalition.' Sharif in fact secured the votes of his party, the PML-N, the Pakistan's People Party of the Bhutto-Zardari family and even the Muttahida Qaumi Movement led from exile in London by the controversial Altaf Hussein. The coalition, officially held together by a desire to 'save Pakistan' (read: to keep members of Imran Khan's party out of any seat of power), was also joined by a handful of smaller parties including some of the religious parties. And not surprisingly, since both Shahbaz and his brother Nawaz (a three-time premier) are close to Islamic fundamentalists and have also been protecting for years, funding it with public money, the notorious Muridke madrasa that breeds jihadi for the Lashkar-i-Toiba and other 'charitable' organizations such as Sipah-i-Saba and Jaish-i-Mohammed. The two brothers are also very close to Tablighi-Jamaat, a hardline 'missionary' organization of which we also have, incidentally, an office in Brescia. But Shahbaz, in addition to his colorful matrimonial affairs (five wives in total, including two-three concurrently including writer Tehmina Durrani), is famous in Pakistan for his consummate skills as an administrator and economist. Regarded in Lahore as the 'smart brother' of the Sharif duo, he has never made the mistake of going against the generals as his brother Nawaz did: interested only in bringing money into the public and family coffers Shahbaz, during his first term, passed a handful of outrageous laws without batting an eyelid: established the Special Investment Facilitation Council, a body that decides on economic policies and on which the army chief now sits; passed a law giving the intelligence service the power to approve or deny appointments and postings of government officials; and ceded to the army the management of some 45. 267 acres of arable land in Punjab. On the other hand, he does not care much about agriculture. He is much more interested in transportation and electricity: he is responsible for the construction of the Lahore Metro and a number of power plants (some coal-fired, which secured him the votes of mine owners) built largely under the auspices of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Not surprisingly, in fact, the first to congratulate the newly elected premier were Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang: Sharif's ties with China are indeed "deep as the sea and sweet as honey," to use the rhetoric favored in relations between the two nations. In the past, the Chinese praised the "Punjab Speed" with which Shahbaz completed projects, and the newly appointed prime minister declared that "Cpec is the foundation of Pakistan's socio-economic trajectory." Which, indebted beyond measure is now held firmly by Beijing's throat. Just as an example, under the agreements Pakistan will receive only 9 percent of the profits generated by the Gwadar port. The remaining 91 percent will go straight into China's capacious pockets for the next forty years. Benefiting from the 'thousands of jobs' created by Cpec, moreover, are only the Chinese. Only low-profile jobs are reserved for local labor and, in any case, locals are paid about half as much as the Chinese who perform the same work. The country's economy has been teetering on the brink of collapse for years, with inflation reaching record levels last spring. An International Monetary Fund bailout has kept the economy afloat, but the program will expire this month and the new government will need to secure another long-term IMF plan. Perpetuating the time-honored Pakistani tradition of paying debts with other debts by only burdening the citizens.