As Pakistan moves closer to an election next year, 2017 will be marked by a political campaign by Imran Khan and other opponents to bring the Nawaz government to a premature end.
They will exploit allegations that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif misled parliament when he failed to declare all the details of family properties in the UK. They will be facing a government that came to power with an overwhelming majority in the most-populous province, Punjab.
The government will creatively build on accelerating economic growth in Pakistan that has so far mostly gone unnoticed. The “quiet rise” of the Pakistani economy has resulted in PricewaterhouseCoopers predicting that Pakistan’s economy will be ranked among top-20 most powerful economies by 2030, placing it ahead of Australia.
The government’s economic policies are showing tangible results in Punjab, especially Lahore. Government figures will exploit international analysts’ predictions to boost claims they are making a real difference in the lives of Pakistani citizens.
Anticipated Chinese investment of more than $US50 billion flowing from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative will be critical in supporting these claims and making a difference for many who have so far not seen the benefits of urban infrastructure development.
However, corruption and chronic skill and energy shortages will continue blunting economic development. But the more positive economic outlook and the projected economic growth rate of over 5%, with China’s help, is likely to play a significant role in creating an environment in which the Nawaz government will come out stronger against its detractors.
Foreign policy presents a far sterner challenge to Pakistan’s leaders. Closer US-Indian security relations mean it will be difficult to raise international support on the Kashmir issue and maintain some semblance of a working relationship with the US.
Equally significant will be the likely impact of the policies announced by the Trump administration against immigration from Muslim-majority states. Even if these restrictions are not imposed on Pakistani citizens, the perception that the US government is pursuing an anti-Muslim agenda is likely to energise Islamist groups. They will claim heightened relevance in shaping developments in South Asia, if not the world.
The spate of terrorist attacks in Pakistan (eight attacks in five days across the country) in February 2017 after the country enjoying some reprieve from militancy indicates that the militant Islamist groups, including Islamic State, would attempt to destabilise the country.
The government will face more vocal and assertive Islamic militant groups and its attempts to counter these groups by targeting those operating from across the border in Afghanistan would also complicate its already fragile relationship with Afghanistan. It would also continue to impact upon the lives of ordinary Pakistanis, who sustained more than 48,504 casualties from 2004 to 2013.