What will the PDM coalition government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif be most remembered for? Will it be as a saviour? A dithering mess of indecisions and incompetence? A mixed-bag? As the PDM government’s farewell speeches concluded yesterday, 16 months of political turmoil, economic meltdown, and alarming ceding of parliamentary space came to a rather unceremonious end. A more fair assessment though would read the PDM’s legacy as a mix of some good, some bad, a lot confused. When Shehbaz Sharif became prime minister in April 2022 after a successful vote of no-confidence against Imran Khan, the country was in an unhappy situation given that the PTI had just reneged on commitments made to the IMF, therefore essentially derailing the IMF programme. On top of that, an ousted Imran Khan and his PTI had a lucky charm in the form of a well-coordinated false foreign conspiracy narrative that gained traction while putting diplomatic relations with the US on the line and at the same time getting rid of the PTI’s unpopularity because people lapped up the conspiracy narrative. Terrorism was rearing its head back in Pakistan due to the flawed policies (yet again of the PTI) after the fall of Kabul and it was the PDM that bore the brunt of all of this. Apart from this, a not very sympathetic judiciary also didn’t go in the PDM’s favour.

Given all this, the PDM faced challenges that it couldn’t even imagine – two long marches by a popular Imran Khan, an antagonist judiciary, political uncertainty and the PDM’s own mismanagement of the economy because of infighting between the PML-N. On the economy, while an optimist would say Pakistan did in the end get the IMF deal, the fact is that default was being seen as an inevitability. This was far too close a shave with the bottom of the barrel. In that realm at least, the outgoing government cannot expect kudos. It did though perform well enough on the foreign policy front, with Bilawal Bhutto turning out to be a good foreign minister. Our ties with China seem to be in a good place; and the US at least for now doesn’t sound too unhappy either. Overall, a win for the PDM if one also includes PM Shehbaz and his team’s CPEC enthusiasm, after four years of relatively subdued CPEC initiatives. On the climate change front, Pakistan faced one of its worst floods but still managed it well, especially when it came to raising the issue on international platforms. In fact, Pakistan leading negotiators at COP27, as chair of G77, managed to negotiate a fund for loss and damage.

One of the issues pointed out for years before the PDM government took over were the unnecessary curbs on the media during the PTI’s time, as well as some disturbing legislation the PTI government had wished to introduce back then. While the PDM government desisted from the organized trolling of journalists that would happen regularly before it took over, the media has continued to face the censor and there have been attempts at getting some cyber laws passed that have been harshly critiqued. However, legislation like the amended Pemra law, health insurance steps for journalists have been welcomed. One of the more glaring negatives in the PDM bucket is the almost obsessive way it has bulldozed legislation in parliament – some of it that sets terrible precedents both for lawmakers and citizens. Such surrender will not go down well in history, something Bilawal Bhutto too hinted at in his farewell speech in parliament – asking his elders (both Asif Ali Zardari andNnawaz Sharif) why the younger lot of politicians are stuck with a politics that never served the older generation either. This Albatross around the neck of our entire political class is the final legacy of a government that had made many claims to the contrary.

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