The culmination of Pakistan’s national election marks the beginning of immense volatility. Competing claims of election win has led to Pakistan paying even higher cost in loss of international credibility. The namesake government will undoubtedly shield the generals there but will get handicapped in resolving disturbing challenges of failed economy , internal security and state to state relations.
Pakistan finally went to polls on 8th February to elect its federal government and the next Prime Minister, ending months of swinging speculations about the fate of a highly chaotic run since the dissolution of the national assembly in April 2022. The national election in Pakistan has become a spectre for the world to see how the winners are situated to bring them as close to reality in appearance as possible. The last election this country held in 2018 resulted in a rookie candidate becoming Prime Minister. It was a well-accepted and widely held belief among international observers that it was a case of ‘selection rather than election’.
The elections whether or not they will happen, as initially dictated by constitutional requirements were only hinging upon the completion of the settings planned from Rawalpindi – the Headquarters of the Army and the infamous Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency. Pakistan Army is well known for its behind-the-scenes control of the state affairs. However, they have to have someone in the contest who could appear more acceptable, more mature, and look to possess more experience to run the mundane administration while having clear ears for the establishment than the previous incumbent. None better than Mr Nawaz Sharief could fit the bill, the only hurdle felt, that he was already being investigated on serious corruption charges and faced a certain jail if he stepped on Pakistani soil. But finding no other worthwhile replacement Mr Nawaz Sharief was sounded to come back and contest with assurance of all impediments being removed.
Momentous efforts were put in by the authorities in Pakistan to ensure Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) remains out of the fray. Imran Khan was swiftly put in jail, and Pakistani courts read out the scripts convicting himon multiple counts of leaking state secrets, corruption in high office, and illegal marriage. The court conviction ensured that Imran Khan became ineligible to contest the election. The Election Commission of Pakistan decided against allocating even an election symbol to PTI. Deep state was busy engineering internal rifts and squeezing out political space for PTI. All for a single-pointagenda to denya level field for Imran’s political outfit.
Pakistan’s election was marred by violence, high-handedness, and blanket censorship of information. Al-Jazeera reported purposeful delays in the voting at many centres even though long queues stood outside. The sudden and complete shutdown of mobile networks across the country crippled the people yearning for information. Amnesty International issued a stern warning to authorities in Pakistan against the closure of internet communication, terming the step as “blunt attack on the rights to freedom of expression”. The counting of results and official announcements of winners kept getting inordinately delayed, further deepening the suspicions of a rigged election.
Practically Pakistani internal matters don’t offer much excitement to any analyst, as primarily the system works in a very predictable manner. Even the die-hard Pakistani fans felt a tad disappointed at the turn of events since the resignations of the last government. Whatever charade it may play out in the next few days it will lead to few pre-decided outcomes. Imran Khan’s gamble of having his supporters contest as independents has paid up with them emerging as the largest group. The respective Returning Officers didn’t realise that the declaration of independents as winners would collectively lead to problems for authorities later on.
Imran’s party would not be allowed to stake claim though, as the single largest party on technicalities of the ‘post-poll alliance’ in preference to Nawaz Sharief’s party. Pakistan’s Military Establishment would now take its final few steps. Despite having much fewer seats for Nawaz Sharief, intervention from Rawalpindi will help stitch and settle the new alliance under him giving it a look of the due democratic process undertaken. The development offers the military even much tighter control over the government as the incumbent Prime Minister would be fully aware that the coalition, he is heading is there only till General Munir so desires.
With a government finally in place and a new selected Prime Minister in the chair, the establishment would feel doubly comfortable. While the arrangement looks perfect for Pakistan’s Army Chief, it has completely fractured whatever hopes the Paksitani people might be having of their daily challenges getting addressed by their newly elected government. Pakistani Military has now found a novel way of leading the country without any accountability while all the responsibility for failures is laid at the doors of time-bound political scapegoats!
Unfortunately, the world continues to witness the system and institutions in Pakistan crumbling. The pillars on which a democratic nation stands are the judiciary, executive, press, and a fair election process; in Pakistan all have collapsed in front of its overbearing military. With a new ‘Template of Governance’ in the hands of Military, this election has virtually sealed the fate of democracy in Pakistan for decades now. Pakistani Generals must get complimented on one aspect, that they have accurately assessed global appetite against a full-fledged autocracy in a nuclear Pakistan. They have been made amply wiser by their Western friends for not crossing that Red Line, less than that their all actions will be ‘understood’.
It’s not for nothing that there has been no hue and cry in the West over the treatment meted out to an ex-Prime Minister and shutting out a major political party from Pakistan’s national elections. The Western governments and an overcharged Western media, who feel themselves the sole custodians of global democracy were all conspicuous by their high decibel concerns. The format of governance might be a fait accompli for Pakistan, but it leaves the world community to chart a new course to deal with a pseudo-dictatorship. A formal approach of interaction routed through GHQ, Rawalpindi will get greater significance for those who wishto navigate their relations with this country successfully.
At the fag end of the national election in Pakistan there were hushed voices of a reconciliatory approach towards India by the new leadership. The desire for non-confrontationist relations with India was also expressed in the media in the larger interest of regional development. But that was all before the results panned out which now looks way too premature. Global interactions are only worth it if the decision-makers sit together. The US showed it when its President met the North Korean leader, China showed it when its Prime Minister Zhou Enlai hosted President Nixon and India showed it when Prime Minister Vajpayee travelled to Lahore.
Pakistan would have to accustom itself to very limited communication from New Delhi as long as its format of governance remains, what it has now adopted. It would also have to remain prepared to bear the high cost if its Deep State ignores New Delhi’s declining threshold towards its laid down concerns. For the immediate time, the settings have ensured Pakistan remained mired in declining creditability, chaotic internal security, divisive politics, and a sliding economy. Its Military Establishment had the opportunity to help the institutions grow, but for its lust, to maintain stiff control over the state above everything else.