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July 30, 2018

Some Reflections on Pak General Election

On 25 July, Pakistan completed the third general election to the National Assembly. In the run-up to election campaigning, brutal unleashing of violence in Baluchistan and KP leading to hundreds of deaths and wounded marred the sanctity of election.

How should we in India look at the recent election scenario in the neighbouring country with which our relations are not friendly? For more than half of her life, the Islamic State of Pakistan remained under the sway of military dictators who intermittently evicted civilian regimes including elected ones on the oft-repeated pretext of “threat to the integrity of the State”

From the very beginning, Pakistan army established its supremacy over the elected government for more than one reason. During the Raj, the British rulers considered Punjabi soldiers faithful and good fighters like some more communities in the country. Since Punjab is the most populous province of Pakistan and Pakistan army comprises nearly 80 per cent Punjabis, their social and political influence over the country remained supreme. More importantly, taking the geographically strategic location of Pakistan into consideration, the Anglo-American bloc saw great utility in befriending Pakistan army as a bulwark against the burgeoning Soviet Union of the early 1950s and 60s. After the US stepped into the shoes of weakened Great Britain in post-WW II era, it gave Pakistan army special treatment and included development aid to Pakistan army as a head of expenditure in its annual budget.
Continued Anglo-American patronage of Pak army was the main reason for the failure of democracy to find roots in Pakistan polity. However, after its debacle in Bangladesh war, Pak army was obliged to make a very small space for a civilian government albeit under its strictly delineated parameters. The parameter, among other things, encompassed the country’s foreign and Kashmir policy.

Washington’s extraordinary warm treatment of Pak army during Afghan mujahideen war against the Soviets was a feather in Pak army’s hat but it dealt a fatal blow to the tender sapling of democracy in Pakistan
This background should explain why no civilian government in Pakistan (Muhammad Ali Bogra, Zulfikar Bhutto, Benazir or Nawaz Sharif) could make any headway in a peace dialogue with India over Kashmir issue.
During his third term in office, Nawaz Sharif essayed to convince General Bajwa that the Constitution of the country had to be respected by allowing the elected government the freedom of framing policies and making vital decisions in the broader interests of the nation. At the end of the day, all those efforts became counter-productive just because in Pakistan real power rests not with the COS but with the triumvirate of the feudal lords, powerful bureaucrats and committed Generals. The triumvirate is bound not only by economic interests but by matrimonial alliances as well.

Observers ask why Pak army did not stage a coup when during last two years the gulf between the civilian administration and the army’s assertiveness was widening. The most contentious issue was the burgeoning of Theo-fascist groups in Pakistan and ever-increasing threats and reprimands by the US. The simple answer is that firstly, Pakistani state is now recognized by world powers as the home and breeding ground of international terrorism, and secondly, Pakistan’s economy is in shamble, no military dictator would take the risk of dragging the nation into the depths of disaster.

Therefore, the army and its brainchild the ISI deeply reflected on how the army would sustain its dominance without opting for a coup, which, against the previous practice, would become only counterproductive. The formula was something like this: (a) frame the incumbent head of the government (b) create and sponsor a proxy as the Kings Party, and (c) demean judiciary. All the three components moved simultaneously. Nawaz Sharif was framed, convicted and given ten years jail term. His daughter has been given seven-year jail terms. In this way, the source of main opposition to the army has been removed days before the actual polling. It is almost the re-enactment of Zia vsZulfi perfidy.

The judiciary played a shameful role in giving not tuppence to its conscience. The three-time former Prime Minister was summoned to the court no fewer than eighty times, something which has no parallel in the history of the judiciary.

And finally, about the King’s party (PTI) the less said the better. In his 2011 autobiography, Pakistan: A Personal story, the Khan blasts conservative clerics for causing the murder of Pakistani senator and Governor SalmaanTaseer through their zealous and fanatical views on blasphemy. In an interview, he had told The Express Tribune that “extremism and radicalism have penetrated our society deeply” and these were harming the youth, adding that “elements like Qadr (Taseer’s assassin) are under the impression that Islam is under threat and act accordingly”.
But the drubbing in 2013 elections seems to have triggered a fundamental change in him. He realised that if one part of the power puzzle could be solved by piggybacking the military, the other was incumbent on a strong pro-Islamist stance. No surprise if his party is now supping with the fundamentalist loonies and Khan is pandering to every regressive cause. In their battle against Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), PTI members asked the public to choose between “the party that flaunts Qadri’s image on election banners and the party that executed him”. Imran is doubling down on the message, telling rally-goers: “No Muslim can call himself a Muslim unless he believes that Prophet Mohammed was the last prophet. Pakistani Ahmadiyyas are rightly disturbed.
In another rally, Imran said, “We stand with Article 295C and will defend it,” referring to a clause in Pakistan’s Constitution that mandates the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation or innuendo” against Prophet Muhammad, reports The Guardian. A commentator elaborating how Oxford alumni Imran Khan boasted he would change Pakistan but actually Pakistan changed him.

Another dimension of this election which may appear curious to unsuspecting analysts but actually is a very calculated move is that the Theo-fascists groups like those floated by Hafiz Saeed and others of his ilk could not garner even one seat in the elections. The fact is that the army does not want these Theo-fascists to be given any space in the governance arena because that would pose a threat to their own domineering status in Pak polity. But the army is prepared to extend all help, arms, funds and logistics to them to keep them engaged in Kashmir and Afghanistan knowing that with the passage of time their cadres would be decimated by the Indian forces in Kashmir and National Security guards in Afghanistan and that would be a good riddance.
Finally, major world media has openly expressed serious reservations about the fairness of Pak elections. Sharif brothers have rejected it and so have the religious groups who are now preparing for a nation-wide movement demanding the annulment of the result and holding fresh elections under the supervision of UN supervisory agency (strangely not OIC). They have released videos showing carriers with PTI mark carrying ballot boxes to the booths and ladies casting bundles of votes in vote boxes.

(Prof. K.N. Pandita is a former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University)

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