With Imran Khan voted out from power, what lies ahead of Shehbaz Sharif, who is most likely to be Pakistan's new prime minister, is apparently a bed of nails.
Shehbaz will have to clear the debris left on the economic frontier by the weeklong political battles, patch up fraught foreign relations with the West and retain political popularity of Pakistan's main opposition the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
And his job may begin as early as Monday as Shehbaz Sharif – the younger brother of Imran Khan's predecessor Nawaz Sharif – submitted his nomination on Sunday.
"This is not a good time for any new leadership to take charge of Pakistan," the head of a leading company in Karachi, Pakistan's southern port city, told the Financial Times Sunday.
For the vacant premier post, Shah Mahmood Qureshi – ex-foreign minister of the former ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) – also submitted the nomination on Sunday, which means politicians are back in business as usual.
Meanwhile, Imran stays in the pavilion – where he has spent most of his political career – at least until the new election in 2023.
Imran Khan assumed office in 2018 by portraying corruption as the main cause for all the sufferings of the people. He assured of a Medina-like welfare state and developing Pakistan like Scandinavian Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
But, Pakistan's ranking on the Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index fell constantly during his government. This year alone, Pakistan's rank has fallen 16 places to 140 from 124, out of 180 countries.
Meanwhile, a deepening economic crisis contributed to dissatisfaction with Imran with painful 13% inflation dogging much of his term.
In February, the prime minister announced a cut in domestic fuel and electricity prices despite a global rise. The move piled further pressure on Pakistan's chronic fiscal deficit and balance-of-payment troubles.
The rupee recently fell to historic lows against the US Dollar and the State Bank of Pakistan sharply increased interest rates as a cushioning measure. The hiking of policy rate will badly affect the country's growth prospects and overall economic activities. The Asian Development Bank projected a 4% GDP growth for the current fiscal year though Pakistan earlier targeted 4.8% growth this year.
In the April-June quarter of the current fiscal year, the country will have to pay back foreign debt of $2.5 billion amid a dwindling reserve.
"Part of it was the situation they inherited from the previous government and part of it was of course Covid," Shahrukh Wani, an economist at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, told Aljazeera English.
With Imran leaving his official residence on Saturday night just before the no-confidence vote, now the economic mess is passed on to the new prime minister Shehbaz Sharif.
A senior opposition leader told the Financial Times that Shehbaz Sharif may announce parliamentary elections before the end of this year "to avoid going for elections [in 2023] when economic trends could make his government more unpopular".
Besides, the PM will have to patch up Pakistan's ties with Uncle Sam, whom Imran accused for his premature exit from office. The US, however, has been discarding the accusations.
Imran's last days in power also compounded the growing army-civilian tensions. Repairing of ties is likely to be in the priority list of Shehbaz.
A rare feat
If all goes well, Shehbaz, 70, will be the consensus prime minister of all but one political party of the country, an honour that few have enjoyed in Pakistan's polarised polity.
Shehbaz, who led a successful bid by the opposition in parliament to topple Imran Khan in the no-confidence vote, is little known outside his home country but has a reputation domestically as an effective administrator more than as a politician, according to Reuters.
Analysts say Shehbaz, unlike Nawaz, enjoys amicable relations with Pakistan's military, which traditionally controls foreign and defence policy in the nuclear-armed nation of 220 million people.
"A new dawn has started... this alliance will rebuild Pakistan," he told the House soon after the vote.
Shehbaz, part of the wealthy Sharif dynasty, is best known for his direct, "can-do" administrative style, which was on display when, as chief minister of Punjab province, he worked closely with China on Beijing-funded projects.
He also said in an interview last week that good relations with the United States were critical for Pakistan for better or for worse, in stark contrast to Khan's recently antagonistic relationship with Washington.
As chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, Shehbaz Sharif planned and executed a number of ambitious infrastructure mega-projects, including Pakistan's first modern mass transport system in his hometown, the eastern city of Lahore.
According to local media, the outgoing Chinese consul general wrote to Sharif last year praising his "Punjab Speed" execution of projects under the huge China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative.
The diplomat also said Sharif and his party would be friends of China in government or in opposition.
About Afghanistan, Islamabad is under international pressure to prod the Taliban to meet its human rights commitments while trying to limit instability there.
Unlike Imran Khan, who has regularly denounced India's Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Sharif political dynasty has been more dovish towards the fellow nuclear-armed neighbour, with which Pakistan has fought three wars, reports Reuters.
Shehbaz was born in Lahore into a wealthy industrial family and was educated locally. After that he entered the family business and jointly owns a Pakistani steel company.
He entered politics in Punjab, becoming its chief minister for the first time in 1997 before he was caught up in national political upheaval and imprisoned following a military coup. He was then sent into exile in Saudi Arabia in 2000.
Shehbaz returned from exile in 2007 to resume his political career, again in Punjab.
He entered the national political scene when he became the chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party after Nawaz was found guilty in 2017 on charges of concealing assets related to the Panama Papers revelations.
The Sharif family and supporters say the cases were politically motivated.
Both brothers have faced numerous corruption cases in the National Accountability Bureau, including under Imran Khan's premiership, but Shehbaz has not been found guilty on any charges.