Not only the elections are over, but also the repolling in various constituencies where the Election Commission of Pakistan deemed it was needed. However, the most attention was focused on the one national and two provincial seats in Karachi where the PTI felt it had a chance of winning. It did, but not before the MQM, which had held these seats before boycotted the election the day before, after a very effusive objection to the polling.

It is worth noting that the MQM found itself in a position where it had lost seats in Karachi; something it had not done (except for the PPP stronghold of Lyari) ever since it emerged on the political scene in the 1987 local body polls, when it achieved overwhelming wins in the Karachi and Hyderabad municipal corporations. These merely presaged the monopoly it has had in Karachi and urban Hyderabad since, starting with the 1988 elections. There has not been an entire MQM monopoly, but the only time other parties got a foothold was in 1993, when an MQM boycott let the Jamaat Islami and the PML-N to win seats. Thus the PTI should be wary: the win may not be the thin edge of the wedge it seems to some. The MQM does represent something, in that it is a vehicle, perhaps the only vehicle politically, for the provincial identity of Muhajirs, who lack one where it became very important in the post-1971 constitutional arrangement. Before, the support for religious parties in Karachi showed the trend of the masses, which helps explain why the MQM uses religious symbolism and imagery in its discourse, particularly in Leader Altaf Hussain’s speeches. It also helps explain something of the appeal of the PTI, which has a strong religious component.

However, it should be noted that the PTI is not a challenger for the Sindh government, and the MQM's value as a junior partner in the provincial government would not be reduced, unless the impression is created that the MQM can no longer deliver. However, the PPP would find the by-election result disturbing, because it finds itself under pressure from the PTI nationally, and because it allowed the PTI to draw equal with it in the National Assembly, making it rely on the MQM for the Leadership of the Opposition.

The PTI pleasure at the by-election win was mixed with sorrow and shock at the murder of provincial vice-president Zahra Shahid on its eve. PTI chief Imran Khan accused the MQM of responsibility, thus dragging into the open one of the better-kept secrets of Pakistani politics, that the MQM wants to be in the provincial government so that it can get criminals let off when they are caught by the law enforcing agencies. The MQM denies this, saying it is merely the propaganda of those who want to dent its popularity, but the fact is that this perception has limited its appeal in the rest of the country.

That it was not deeply involved in the Karachi by-poll allowed the PML-N to concentrate on forming the governments at the Centre and in Balochistan (Punjab not posing a problem, so overwhelming was the PML-N majority there). Along with government formation, the PML-N also got down to tackling the major problems the country faces. Primacy was given to energy loadshedding, the most immediate problem of the new government, both because it could turn into a law and order issue at any time, itself a major problem for a government already facing the law and order problem caused by the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan, and also because of having a harmful economic effect. This negative effect made it likely to harm the government politically. This involves a number of factors. First would be the foreign exchange crisis, which is caused to an extent because exporters cannot meet their customers’ timing targets, and which has led to many factory closures and if factories stay closed, they have had to engage in massive layoffs, adding to the joblessness created by factories closing.

The PPP was as thoroughly defeated because of the power loadshedding. Not only has it led to economic harm, but it might well have the potential to bring the PML-N to an electoral debacle as thorough as the PPP’s. Already, even though he has yet to take office, Mian Nawaz is the target of public ire at loadshedding. Without some solution to the loadshedding issue, the PML-N will not be able to go to the electorate. The solution need not be complete, but it will have to address the issue. As an initial measure, the incoming government will have to look at the theft and losses plaguing the system, for addition of generation capacity or even conversion to alternate fuels, like coal, will take time. It is perhaps unfortunate for both government and the nation that attention has been focused, indeed riveted, on this issue, by the fact that the elections were held at the beginning of the hot weather.

It is not as if there are not other issues. First come the drones. Bringing their attacks to an end is a priority of both the PML-N and the PTI. The latter is set to form the government in the province neighbouring FATA, the area where the drone strikes are happening in Pakistan. Though the PTI will form the government there, dealing with the country carrying out the drone strikes, the USA, will fall to the central government. Similarly, the PML-N will lead the government in Balochistan, and try to bring back that province, which has been wracked with violence, tribal warfare and forced disappearances, to normalcy. Similarly, while the PPP and the MQM prepare to form the Sindh provincial government, neither should expect the central government to ignore lawlessness in Karachi, the country’s only port and commercial capital, as did the previous one. Both parties should remember that Mian Nawaz sacked a PML-N-MQM coalition in 1999 to impose an emergency and direct central rule. They must be ready for him to do so again if the situation there goes out of control. It seems that the caretaker government has had some success in reducing the threat faced in Karachi, but similar outbreaks of peace have been witnessed before. The previous PPP-MQM coalition had a bad record in this respect.

With all of this happening, the US drawdown in Afghanistan is also due to take place. While it will have inevitable effects on KP (where the PTI will be ruling), the central government will again face the situation, which might remind Mian Nawaz of the situation in 1990, when he first became PM, when the Najib regime collapsed. Will history repeat itself, with a different superpower this time?

This raises the question of civil-military relations. Afghanistan in 1990 was the first time Mian Nawaz tried to pull the military’s chestnuts out of the fire, but not the last. COAS Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s Raiwind lunch indicates that Mian Nawaz still is, but the end of his second tenure is being mined by those who want to know how his third will go.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.