Pakistan votes today to select the party that will govern the country for the next five years. But, as Pakistanis go out to vote, the country’s Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) called it the dirtiest elections in the history of the country’s 70 years of existence.
The reason for this sweeping statement is the open fact that Pakistan’s security ‘establishment’ i.e. its army and its intelligence arm – the ISI have worked to ensure no political party except for Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is allowed to campaign freely, its candidates and supporters are being bolstered by ISI and those not supporting Khan have been told to stay at home. Media channels critical of Khan have been pulled off air and the movement of Khan’s political opponents have been extremely curtailed.
With a population of 201,384,319 people the country should have been a raucous democracy. But what it has become is a country manipulated by its security establishment that works to ensure its own survival and entrenchment.
Imran Khan as choice for the face of Pakistan’s democratic government has come about after the country’s popular leaders ran afoul of the security establishment. As Bruce Loudon writes for The Australian, “The military has long loathed (Nawaz) Sharif for his attempts at various stages during his years as prime minister to assert civilian control over an institution that has ruled Pakistan either directly — after coups — or by stealth for 70 years. It detests him, too, for his attempts to improve relations with neighbouring India.”
Every Pakistani prime minister realizes that for there to be peace in Pakistan which would lead to economic progress, there has to be peace with India and the elimination of the hoards of right-wing violent groups that are making it an extremist country. But, with peace comes the curtailment of the military’s functioning which Pakistan’s generals cannot allow to happen. Pervez Musharraf who came to power through a coup also tried to take the road to peace with India and now languishes in exile. Sharif and his daughter Maryam are now in prison over corruption charges while Benazir Bhutto’s party led by her young son Bilawal has lost mass appeal.
Imran Khan has increasingly sided with the radical Mullahs populating Pakistan’s countryside and in his narrative of all that ails Pakistan, the military’s role is conveniently missing. Combined with this, Khan’s performance as a governor in his home-ground of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, has been dismal. There has been no infrastructure growth nor any growth in jobs to locals. Khan also supports Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, has called for the military’s gargantuan share of the national budget to remain untouched, declared that feminism degrades motherhood, and most recently welcomed the support of Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who reportedly founded the militant organisation Harkatul Mujahideen.
In short, in the eyes of the military Imran Khan has perfected his portfolio to be the rubber stamp face of Pakistan’s next government.