Pakistan’s sham elections
Pakistan goes to the polls this week in another sham election, results of which are already known. Nawaz Sharief, who returned from self-imposed exile in the UK recently is the next PM. His return after being a fugitive for four years, closure of all cases against him implies that he is now the favourite of the army. How large a majority would he be given is to be seen as Rawalpindi would need to maintain control over him.
Imran Khan, the most popular politician and leader of the largest political party, the PTI, remains behind bars and is denied permission to contest. He was awarded a 10-year sentence for the cipher case in a hurried trial, just days before elections, thereby debarring him from contesting elections for five years.
A day later he and his wife were both awarded 14 years for the Toshakhana case in a similar rushed trial. In both cases, all legal norms, including cross examination of witnesses, were dispensed with. It appeared that a timeline had been set for the sentencing. Any decision by a superior judiciary to overturn these sentences would only happen post elections. This will ensure that Imran is officially out of contention for the present.
The cricket bat, symbol of the PTI, has been denied to them. This has compelled Imran’s party to nominate its candidates as independents, with the promise that they will rejoin the party post elections. Their rallies have been broken up by security forces under illogical pretexts while online meetings prevented by sudden ‘internet outrages.’ Its popular leaders have been arrested or absconding. All attempts are being made to ensure that the party does not upset carefully crafted plans of the army.
Al Jazeera, in a news report, mentioned that the Pak army has directed media houses not to mention the PTI in their broadcasts and news reports, nor display their flag. It was to refer to its candidates as independents. This projects that the Rawalpindi gang, headed by General Asim Munir, still fears the street power of Imran. Surprising for a country, where the army calls the shots.
This is almost a reverse of elections held in 2018. Then Nawaz was in bad books of Rawalpindi facing a collection of legal cases, which barred him from contesting polls. His electable party members were forced to quit and join Imran’s PTI. This time it is ‘Imran Khan’ in place of ‘Nawaz Sharief.’ In 2018, the army stuffed ballot boxes to ensure victory of Imran. This time, they would ensure Nawaz returns to power.
The message from Pakistan to the world is that in a military state the post of PM is nothing but a game of musical chairs. Prior to his incarceration, Imran was advised to proceed abroad, staying away from politics. He would be recalled when Nawaz runs out of favour. He refused and challenged the powers that be. The result, locked in jail and barred from politics.
Munizae Jahangir, co-chairperson of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, mentioned in a press conference, ‘At this point, there is little evidence to show that the upcoming elections will be free, fair or credible.’ She added, ‘I think that there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that strings of this country are being pulled by the military.’ Her words were echoed by the Dawn, which mentioned in an editorial, ‘Cancelling a mainstream party through arrests and intimidation, and now technicalities at the pre-poll stage, flies in the face of democracy.’
The current chief justice, Qazi Faez Isa, is one whom Imran had sought to remove. Hence, support from the courts is unlikely thereby giving a free run to Nawaz. Electioneering has been damp adding to the fact that all involved are already aware of the results.
The US, which criticizes other nation’s for not adhering to democracy, maintains silence over Pakistan’s pseudo democracy. When questioned on democracy being subverted, the US state department spokesperson, Mathew Miller, mentioned, ‘We don’t take a position aside from supporting the Pakistani people’s right to choose their government.’ When asked for comments on the manner in which Imran was convicted, Miller stated that Pakistan’s judicial system is ‘not a Kangaroo court.’
These elections come at a time when Pak is in dire economic states. Its foreign exchange reserves are depleting, tax collection is at an all time low and debt is rising, pushing the country to the verge of default. Terrorism is at a peak in Baluchistan and the erstwhile FATA. It needs politicians who can reverse the Pak economy by cutting down on wasteful expenditure, mainly defence, by improving ties with its neighbours, but the army is unwilling to bend. Thus, no political party would be able to resolve Pakistan’s fate.
The army chief, in an interaction with students, laid down the nation’s foreign policy to be followed by any government gaining power. He indicated that Afghanistan should not be considered a friend and peace with India is not on the cards. Thus, no matter what the next PM envisages, he can change little, unless Rawalpindi decides.
The current state of Pakistan politics is due to its complex civil-military relations. Pak politicians, greedy for power, are willing to back the military when it comes to crushing their opponents. Courts are powerless as they remain controlled by the all-powerful establishment. Imran distributed sweets when Nawaz was jailed, backing the same system which now places him behind bars. Once jailed, Imran cries foul. It’s nothing but musical chairs.
The world is aware that Islamabad is for photo-ops while decisions are taken in Rawalpindi. Added is Pakistan’s record of no PM ever having completed his tenure. Every Pak PM has been removed by the army chief he has appointed. One wonders why people still want to participate in politics in Pakistan.
Possibly the only reason is that politics is seen there as a business. It provides perks, privileges and an opportunity to loot. Every senior politician, like army generals, owns houses in London and rushes there at the first sign of threat. Serving the nation and its people is last in anyone’s mind. Politics in Pakistan is controlled by members of few families who occupy the top chair in rotation. No wonder it is a banana republic.