Imran bowls out opposition, but faces bouncers

By Ameen Izzadeen
Dubbed by the losers as the dirtiest election in Pakistan’s tryst with democracy, Wednesday’s parliamentary and provincial assembly polls were in many respects significant, for they have redrawn Pakistan’s political landscape for cohabitation between civilian and military authorities.
Backed by the powerful military, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan will be the next prime minister of Pakistan after his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) or Movement for Justice emerged the winner in the election which the other parties saw as flawed and blatantly rigged.
But it all depends on developments in the next few days. The Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan People’s Party led by Bilawal Bhutto, the son of assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and other opposition parties have united in rejecting the election results. It is not sure whether the elected opposition members would take their oaths or form a powerful opposition alliance to deny a comfortable majority to PTI in Parliament and in provincial assemblies. Citing the election officials’ move to bar polling agents from being present at counting centres and a host of other irregularities, the opposition parties have called the whole election process outrageously farcical. The polls officials, however, attributed the extraordinary delay in announcing the results to a computer software glitch.
At the centre of the controversy is the country’s powerful military.
If politicians think, as the famous French statesman Georges Clemenceau, who led his country during World War I, did, that “War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men”, the military men could say, as the famous French General and President Charles de Gaulle is reported to have said, that politics is too serious a matter to entrust to politicians.
Nowhere is such a military mindset more evident than in Pakistan. Since Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s death in September 1948, a year after Pakistan was carved out of the British Raj, the military had arrogated to itself the power to decide on matters relating to the nation’s survival as an independent state for the subcontinent’s Muslims, more so against the backdrop of hostilities with India over Kashmir.
In the run-up to Wednesday’s polls, which were also marred by the deaths of more than 200 people in violence and terror attacks, it became clearer that democracy was still largely an illusion, amidst allegations that the military was pre-rigging the democratic process to prevent a PML-N victory. But one cannot downplay Khan’s victory in Wednesday’s polls, for however powerful the military is, it simply cannot influence millions of voters, especially in Punjab, the Sharif stronghold, where Khan’s PTI had fare relatively well.
Khan’s party has a relatively good governance record in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, earlier known as the North West Frontier Province. The thrice-married Khan is a green politician. He launched a highly ambitious billion-tree tsunami to save Pakistan from the harmful effects of global warming; a project that reminds us of his cancer hospital campaign decades ago. He has been spearheading an anti-corruption crusade against the Sharif government. Sharif, tainted by Panama Papers exposés, is now serving a ten-year prison term after he was convicted on July 6 by a court of corruption charges stemming from his ownership of four luxury apartments in London.
The military has denied the allegations that it was manipulating the elections. However, the allegations, perhaps, immortalise a graffiti that appeared on a Karachi wall in 1988 soon after Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister, ending a decade of military rule by General Zia-ul-Haq. In typical television language, the graffiti read, “Sorry for the disruption due to democracy, the usual martial law will resume soon”.
Yet, democracy has survived, since military ruler Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign in 2008 following people’s power protests countrywide. However, in view of the allegations against the military, the fact that there has been in the past ten years democracy worked in Pakistan, which has seen 33 years of military rule in its 71-year post-independence existence, does not mean that democracy in Pakistan has come of age. Rather, it points to an uneasy relationship between the civilian administration and the military authorities — a continuous power struggle.
It is said even when Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister in 1988, the Cabinet meetings took place under the watchful eyes of the military. Her government and governments that followed did not enjoy powers to decide on foreign and defence policies. They were exclusively matters for the military.
During the past ten years of ‘uninterrupted’ democracy, more so during the past five years under Sharif, who experienced the pain and shame of being thrown out of office by Musharraf’ military coup in 1999, there had been attempts by the civilian government to assert its authority.
Sharif’s disputes with the military came out in to the open when, in October 2016, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper published an investigative article on the government’s conflict with the military over measures to combat terrorism.
The article by journalist Cyril Almeida said the Sharif government, in a blunt, orchestrated and unprecedented warning, had urged the military to support measures taken by the state against banned militant groups. Since the exposé, known as the Dawnleaks, the military, it is alleged, began a witch-hunt on the media, especially the Dawn group.
It is also alleged that the military had coaxed several of Sharif’s Muslim League politicians to join Khan’s PTI, while there are also allegations that there is some collaboration between the military and sections of the judiciary in putting Sharif behind bars ahead of the elections.
Probably what prevented the military from overthrowing Sharif’s hostile government was the fear of public protests. After all, it was the people’s power protests that brought down the regime of military strongman Musharraf. Another factor was the 2016 botched coup in Turkey where, the people braved guns and tanks to defend democracy, when a section of the military staged a coup. Pakistan’s generals certainly do not want to go into history, disgraced and disliked by the people. But it is also a reality in Pakistan that the military, which is said to be running large businesses, would not surrender its power completely to a civilian authority.
Khan’s party, which has already struck bonhomie with the military, needs to make some kind of accommodation with the military, if it wants to survive. But the challenges Khan, a philosophy, political science and economics graduate from the Oxford University, faces are gigantic. He has pledged to create a new Pakistan, free of corruption.
He needs to begin his new innings with radical moves to lift the economy from the abyss it has fallen into. Besides tackling bouncers from an opposition alliance led by the PML-N, Khan, a supporter of China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative, has to deal with a hostile India, terror outfits and a nagging US President Donald Trump who has accused Pakistan of taking hundreds of millions of US dollars in aid and doing little or nothing in combating terrorism.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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