Elections to Pakistan’s National Assembly (NA) are to be held on July 25. The elections are of great significance to Pakistan and the Indian sub-continent given the background in which they will be held.
The elections to the 342-member NA are taking place in the context of four major developments: the jailing of the top most civilian political leader in the country, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, for high corruption; the rise of anti-corruption crusader Imran Khan in the political firmament as the only credible alternative to Sharif; the political mainstreaming of Jihadi organizations which are used by the Pakistani Deep State to destabilize India; and re-emergence of the army as a decisive factor in electoral Pakistani politics.
The principal parties in the fray are: Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) led by Nawaz Sharif (with 189 seats in the present NA); Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto (with 47 seats now)and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan (with 33 seats currently).
PML (N) has hit a very bad patch now. Its founder-Nawaz Sharif, was disqualified from holding public offices in 2017 by the SC and in July 2018, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for high corruption
In addition, there are Islamic and Jehadi parties, some of them recently “mainstreamed” on the recommendation of the Pakistan Army/Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Of the three principal parties, only the PML (N) and the PTI are taken seriously because the PPP led by greenhorn Bilawal Bhutto and his corrupt father, Asif Zardari, is now not a patch on what it was under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto. However, the PML (N) has hit a very bad patch now. Its founder-leader, Nawaz Sharif, was disqualified from holding public offices in 2017 by the Supreme Court and in July 2018, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for high corruption.
Revelations in the 2015 Panama Papers about Sharif’s unaccounted investments in the UK made corruption a central issue in Pakistan, opening the door to Imran Khan and the PTI. With PPP’s Zardari also known as “Mr.10 percent” the only top leader who can play the corruption card credibly now, is Imran.
Sharif’s political family is presently divided, with his brother, Shehbaz Sharif, apparently suing for peace with the army. Shehbaz did not show up at the Lahore airport when Nawaz arrived to be arrested. Shehbaz is now talking of “a national coalition government” and not a PML (N) government. PML (N) cadres are demoralized. The PTI, in contrast, has been a rising party, riding on an anti-corruption sentiment sweeping the country. Its leader, Imran Khan, has been hammering at corruption for the last two decades. He is also known to be the only top rung Pakistani political leader to have done charity work. He single-handedly built a cancer hospital for the poor in the name of his mother Shaukat Khanum.
Above all, Imran Khan has the tremendous advantage having the support of the all-powerful Pakistani army.The army has controlled the main levers of power in Pakistan, dominating foreign and security policies, since the early 1950s. Sharif’s efforts to assert civilian control over the military during his last term failed, turning him into an intensely hated figure in the military.
But Khan has no qualms about working with the military. Putting it in a roundabout way, he told an interviewer: “I think a democratic government rules from moral authority. And if you don’t have moral authority, then those who have the physical authority assert themselves. In my opinion, it is the Pakistan Army and not an enemy army. I will carry the army with me.”
- Imran Khan has tremendous advantage with the support of the all-powerful Pakistani Army
- Sharif was overthrown by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 1999 for signing the “Lahore Pact”
Khan blames the “corrupt and inept civilian leaderships of the past” for bringing the army into the political picture. He also blames India and Afghanistan for the military’s “outsize” role in the country.
“I have very clear foreign policy objectives, and where there are security concerns of the army, we will address them. We will sit down. It is our army,” Imran Khan said.
Explaining Khan’s stand, Lahore-based political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said: “Imran Khan has realized that if you want to run Pakistan, you have to work with the military because of the internal and external challenges. By fighting with the military you cannot run the State. With adversarial neighbors like India and Afghanistan, clearly, the military will have a bigger say in the security policy.”
Punished for befriending India
Nawaz Sharif had also made the “cardinal error” of trying to make peace with India, peace which would have reduced or nullified the army’s overwhelming influence over Pakistan’s foreign and strategic policy.
Sharif was overthrown by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 1999 because he had signed the “Lahore Pact” with the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and had called off the military operations in Kargil. If Sharif is now out of power, it is partly because he tried to have a détente with India by inviting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over to his home in an impromptu way, raising suspicions in the army.
But the last straw on the camel’s back was the Sharif government’s instruction to the army to curb Jihadi militant groups which were on terrorist missions in India. After Imran Khan filed a case in the Supreme Court against Sharif in 2016 based on the Panama Papers, and as the court proceedings were on, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, the army chief, met Khan on March 31, 2017. In April, the Supreme Court ordered the constitution of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to further probe the matter. Significantly, the JIT included two military members, one from the Military intelligence and the other from the Inter-Services Intelligence.
As one commentator put it: “Whether the judges called the Generals or the Generals called the judges, is irrelevant. The JIT`s report was already decided when it was constituted.”
Sharif ought to have known the nature of the game played by the army and political parties in Pakistan because, like Imran Khan now, he himself had conspired with the army to overthrow Benazir Bhutto in 1990.
As Sharif’s popularity was on the downward trend, the army’s popularity was growing, given its strong action against the anti-government Jihadi militant groups like the Pakistani Taliban which were wreaking havoc in Pakistan.
However, at the same time, the military intelligence had successfully persuaded the government to mainstream Jehadi groups which had been useful in mounting terror attacks in India. This too was popular in Pakistan partly because some of the Jehadi groups were doing charity work and partly because there is support for their destructive work across the border in India.
Khan blames the “corrupt and inept civilian leaderships of the past” for bringing the Army into the political picture
The Islamic parties’ alliance Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA) has been revived. US designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed’s candidates will be in the fray through a proxy party, the Allaha-u-Akbar Tehreek because his own new party, Milli Muslim League, has been denied registration.
The leader of the sectarian Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Maulana Mohammed Ahmed Ludhianvi, has been removed from the terrorist list and allowed to fight the elections. Then there is the five party Islamic alliance Muttahida Majlis e Amal which includes known religious figures.
The mainstreamed terror groups are expected to carry on their terror activities in India, even as they exert pressure and influence on democratic institutions as elected representatives.