Pakistan goes to the polls on 25th July to elect a new National Assembly, leading to the appointment of a new Prime Minister. The way the election process is moving raises questions on whether the same are likely to be fair and genuine or doctored to form a government suiting the interests of the Pak deep state. Political leaders who have questioned the deep state are being side lined while terrorist groups and religious leaders who have the backing of the army are being propelled forward.
The elections have three major political parties in the fray, apart from a multitude of religious and extremist organizations masquerading as political parties. The parties are the Nawaz led PML (N), the PPP led by Zardari, husband of the late PM Benazir Bhutto and the PTI led by ex- cricketer Imran Khan.
Nawaz had grown too big for his boots and had begun challenging the might of the deep state seeking to bring the army under the control of the polity. He had failed to realize that democracy in Pak is controlled and any attempts to change status quo would be countered by force. No coup would have been acceptable anymore in Pak. The world would react negatively. The best option was to bring in the judiciary and have him removed on corruption grounds as early as possible.
In Pakistan, court cases drag for years as is the case in India, especially where political leaders are concerned. The investigation into corruption by Zardari had dragged for years. However, corruption charges against Sharif moved at a speed unheard of in Pak. His investigation and trial has been done post haste. The supreme court even passed directions that the judgement would be delivered by the accountability court before the elections. His judgement was delivered while he was still abroad. His attempts at seeking sympathy votes have been thwarted by his arrest on landing, preventing him from even addressing any rally.
Zardari was the next. There were rumours floating that Zardari had reached an agreement with the deep state, as all major cases against him were withdrawn at the end of last year. They further statedthat the withdrawal of cases was done to prevent him from backing Nawaz during the process of his ouster. Zardari complied and even went against Nawaz, little knowing what the next few weeks would hold for him. With Nawaz side lined, Zardariwas back facing the heat.
Investigation into cases involving him had been ongoing for a long time, however nothing could be proved. He even spent years in jail, without being convicted. The sudden decision to place him on the exit control list indicates that he too would be debarred just prior to the voting on 25th July. To further add to the mystery is that the reopening of charges against him have been brought forth in a Suo moto decision of the supreme court. The charges are the same which he had faced earlier. Though investigation against him have been stopped by the supreme court for now, claiming fairness during the election phase, the message is loud and clear. You are no longer the choice for the top post.
This leaves only one contender in the fray, Imran Khan. He was almost wiped out in the last elections, but support from the deep state, whose line he has been towing has revived his fortunes. He has neither questioned the deep state nor supported its detractors. In fact, the deep state employed him to establish a blockade in Islamabad to threaten Nawaz, where he willingly complied. He is now the frontrunner for the post. The fact is that his party would not have the numbers in the national assembly to form a government on its own. It would need to bank on ‘others’.
The ‘others’ that would support him are a multitude of religious and terrorist groups, masquerading as political parties. This year these parties are fielding a record number of 460 candidates for the national assembly in the forthcoming elections. The parties include the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (political wing of the party which led the blockade of Islamabad in Nov last year and was resolved after the intervention by the army.The joint statement thanked the army chief), Hafiz Saeed’s political wing backed Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek and other small parties. The combination of these parties would erode the vote bank of major political parties ensuring that none can become a powerful force by itself. The MMA, which alone is an alliance of five religious parties would draw in votes on religious grounds as would the other parties. All these so called ‘political parties’ owe their allegiance to the deep state, hence if Imran gets too big for his boots, they would ensure his downfall by just withdrawing support.
To add to the reigning confusion is the dubious role given to the army for the elections including placing serving military personnel inside and outside polling booths and transferring of all election material. Though both the army and the election commission of Pakistan attempted to downplay the role of the army, it is becoming more evident that it would be able to determine the outcome of the elections and possibly has. July 25th would only be a show, with the outcome finalized.
Despite all the power that it holds, the deep state appears to be wary of major political parties, unwilling to risk another Nawaz re-emerging from the elections. It has taken multiple steps to ensure that the next Government would be headed by Imran Khan and would have members of multiple religious and terrorist groups, masquerading as political parties, in the coalition. This would ensure that an anti-India chorus would continue in the nation and peace would be far from the horizon, unless Pak’s survival is threatened, which would now be economic as the country’s economy is moving downhill at a rapid pace. However, in Kashmir and along the LoC, it is business as usual.
(The author is Major General retd)