Opinion | Pakistan army will lurk within Imran Khan’s regime
Under cloud is the integrity of the electoral process that, many in Pakistan insist, was rigged to make the Imran Khan win and defeat Nawaz Sharif’s PMN-L and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto.Updated: Jul 27, 2018 08:54 IST
The best way to sum up the elections in Pakistancould be by referencing a 19th-century aphorism by military theorist Carl von Clausewitz: War is the continuation of politics by other means. A coup by other means — that’s what Imran Khan’s imminent installation as Prime Minister is to some of his vocal detractors and political opponents.
There are several accounts suggesting that the army has seized power through an election manipulated and navigated to help the former cricketer’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). The pitch was seemingly curated to suit the PTI’s ‘cricket bat’ election symbol against contenders from whose ranks electable candidates were coerced and threatened to switch allegiances. Widely suspected in these defections, meant to help Imran and weaken his opponents, was the hand of the Pakistani deep state.
In short, the playfield was rendered uneven, and the results preordained. In the guise of fighting graft, the PTI’s main challengers, Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam, were imprisoned days before the polls.
Media houses and journalists perceived to be soft on the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) were reined in brazenly. Among the publications so restrained was the widely respected Dawn, a newspaper founded by Muhammed Ali Jinnah that had published a report bringing out sharp differences between the army and the Sharif regime in the security agencies’ fight against entrenched terror groups.
The cat was out of the bag when some of these outfits, including the ones run by Hafiz Sayeed, were allowed to enter the poll fray even as the State’s grip tightened on Sharif’s party. Their presence truncated the PML-N’s vote base, which overlapped with the Islamist -Jihadi constituency, giving Imran an advantage on several seats in Punjab. The army has lurked behind elected regimes all through Pakistan’s troubled tryst with democracy. In the PTI regime, it will lurk within — without a coup in the usual sense of the word in a country that has ruled by its military for the most part since its Independence.
There is no doubt that Imran, whose party brought down corruption and administered Khyber-Pakthtunkhwa well, is a popular face with a formidable mass base. But elections are the only barometer to gauge the spread and reach of a leader or his party’s appeal. That’s where the captain whose team won the 1992 cricket World Cup doesn’t look a fair winner. Under cloud is the integrity of the electoral process that, many in Pakistan insist, was rigged to make the PTI win and defeat Sharif’s PMN-L and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto.
Bhutto ran a campaign that was sober, mature and free of rancor, unlike the belligerence of the other claimants to power. But the PPP, which once had a pan-Pakistan presence, emboldening Bilawal’s mother Benazir to claim it was the only other institution in Pakistan besides the Army, has become confined to its citadel of Sindh. In Punjab, the PMN-L is down but not out despite the PTI gaining at its cost. So, in terms of competitive popularity, Imran’s party can, for the first time since its inception in 1996, claim a wider, more inclusive vote spread than its rivals put together. Be that as it may, the opposition to the PTI in the 272-member National Assembly will be robust, not meek, unless Imran’s not-so-hidden benefactors have tricks up their sleeves. Rawalpindi will be keen to ensure a full majority in Islamabad for their favourite “ladlaa”, whose indebtedness to the army makes him look like a ‘half PM’. In that sense, the moniker will damage, not help, Imran in his new role.