Rule by proxy.

THE frequent trips of the prime minister to London for consultation with his elder brother demonstrate where the real power lies. They have reinforced the perception of a head of government with no real authority to take decisions on important national issues. He even needs the approval of the elder Sharif for the appointment of a new army chief.

This rule by proxy has widened the power vacuum in Islamabad. Disarray in the coalition government is apparent.

The powerless prime minister does not seem to have the capacity to deal with the multiple crises confronting the country. The drift is ominous. Rule by remote control has seriously undermined the legitimacy of the present dispensation.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif's dash last week to London from Egypt was most shocking. While the country has been in the midst of a serious political and economic crisis, he spent four days consulting the self-exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on critical policy matters. The main issue under discussion was said to be related to the appointment of the new army chief.

That has led to further politicisation of a sensitive national security matter that should be dealt with purely on the basis of merit.

Some recent statements by PML-N leaders have reinforced suspicions that the party is looking for a favourite. Although Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has now denied that there were consultations on the army chief's appointment, the prime minister's extended stay in London and the prolonged deliberations held there give a different impression. Contradictory statements by PML-N leaders have badly damaged the government's credibility.

A powerless PM does not seem to have the capacity to deal with multiple national crises.

Predictably, the entire episode has given further ammunition to the PTI's narrative questioning the government's intent. There is no realisation on any side about the damage that such politicisation of the appointment of the new army chief can do to the institution. Nothing could be worse than an ongoing media discussion on the contenders for such a sensitive post.

Each side is feeding off the controversy. It is the ruling party that needs to be much more cautious. Yet, some PML-N leaders have deliberately highlighted the London meeting to prove their point that the ousted prime minister is still in charge, without realising that they are undermining their own government in the process. The Sharif family's internal political tussle also...

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