Less – or even zero – problems with neighbors and recalcitrant forces within would amplify Sharif’s ability to deal with his primacy focus: reviving Pakistan’s dormant economy. An end to the Balochistan insurgency would allow Pakistan to fully develop the Gwadar port as an energy and trade corridor that links China’s landlocked Xinjiang region by road and rail to the Arabian Sea. Pakistan could see gas flowing in from Afghanistan or Iran and foreign direct investment from India as well as the United States and Europe. But meaningful external capital inflows require Sharif’s government to be vigilant about collecting corporate and income taxes as well as arrears on electricity bills owed by both household and business consumers. Sharif might have to butt heads with his base – middle-class traders and industrialists – and fight against the predatory instincts of Pakistani politicians, including those in his own party who see politics as a get-rich-quick scheme. But the payoff for real economic and anti-corruption reform, namely a return to rapid GDP growth experienced during much of the last decade, would far outweigh the risks from continued stagflation and near-insolvency.
Nawaz Sharif will not be a badshah or sultan if he manages within the next five years to quell domestic militancy, stabilize ties with neighbors, evolve more democratic ground rules with the military, and restrain the many predators who extract from the state. But he would be something even better: a legitimate, democratic reformer who will have made major strides in advancing peace and prosperity in his country and region. Unlike Erdogan, who has given Turkey a number of years of impressive economic growth, Sharif would actually be close to zero problems in the region and, with the absence of term limits, wouldn’t need to manipulate the constitution to run again. He’d simply have to point at the new Pakistan he helped pull back from the clutches of death.
Arif Rafiq is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC, which provides strategic guidance on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. He tweets at: @arifcrafiq.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.