Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to step down before term ends next month

He will finish after Islamabad secured critical $3 billion IMF bailout last week

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif attends the 22nd Shanghai Co-operation Organisation Heads of State Council Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. EPA
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Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said he will handover power to a caretaker government before the completion of his term next month.

Mr Sharif, who took over in April last year after leading a coalition of parties that removed Imran Khan from power through a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, didn’t say when exactly he will quit.

He will finish his time in office after Islamabad secured a critical $3 billion IMF bailout last week. The country is struggling economically with inflation at nearly 30 per cent annually and soaring debt, but the bailout has given a glimmer of hope that the country can stabilise its finances. Interest rates have hit a record 22 per cent in an attempt to curb inflation.

Mr Sharif said the bailout, which followed eight months of difficult negotiations, “bolsters Pakistan's economic position to overcome immediate to medium-term economic challenges, giving the next government the fiscal space to chart the way forward”.

Mr Sharif’s time in office has been marked by a long-standing dispute with former prime minister Imran Khan, who led a series of massive rallies across the country following his ousting in a no-confidence vote in April.

Mr Khan said that Mr Sharif had worked covertly with the US to oust him – a charge Washington and Mr Sharif strongly deny.

The rallies of Mr Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which were often met with violent police crackdowns – and in one case, saw the death of a police officer – culminated in May with Mr Khan’s arrest, along with the detention of thousands of his supporters.

Released on bail, the former prime minister is still fighting numerous charges brought against him by the government, and had previously been held on charges of terrorism and corruption. He also stands accused of being linked to the murder of lawyer Abdul Razzaq Shar, who had accused Mr Khan of high treason and was shot dead in June.

Mr Khan survived an assassination attempt in November, when an assailant shot him in the leg.

Mr Sharif, who had spent years in exile in Saudi Arabia between 1999 and 2007 following a coup in his home country, is known for being the longest serving governor of Punjab. Like Mr Khan, he was arrested in September 2020 on corruption charges but was released on bail in April the following year.

Mr Sharif’s time in office has also been marred by worsening violence in the rugged north of the country, where the army is battling two insurgencies, one led by the local branch of the Taliban and another by Baloch separatists.

Dawn reported the national elections may be held in November, within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly, or parliament’s lower house that elects the prime minister. The five-year term of the lower house ends on midnight of August 12, it said.

The so-called caretaker government supervises the polls, which must be held within 60 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly. If the legislature is dissolved days before the completion of its term, the elections are to be held within 90 days.

Updated: July 17, 2023, 8:51 AM