Living up to the warped tag line of free and fair elections, the poll process in Pakistan ended on July 25th. Coming as a grim reminder to the yet to be elected Prime Minister, a powerful bomb blast ripped the polling booth area in Quetta killing 31 people. Hours later, IS claimed responsibility for the attack positioning itself as perpetrator of terrorism in the veritable terror manufacturing den, Pakistan. This is not an isolated incident. In the run up to elections, lethal bomb attacks at election rallies in Mastung, Peshawar and Bannu claimed hundreds of innocent lives. Aside, burgeoning terror threats, Pakistan economy is now in tatters. Mounting debt servicing, growing trade deficit and dwindling forex reserves forced a third devaluation of Pakistan rupee in seven months. In June it has been placed under FATF (Financial Action Task Force) grey list for failing to restrain the terror financing. Pakistan has promised to implement a 26-point list in 15 months to avoid being placed under black list. But as of now, Pakistan did little to dismantle the terror financing conduits. To exacerbate current challenges, jihadist groups are now deeply entrenched in the civil society. Amidst these trying situations, the Pakistani establishment which include military, intelligence and a section of judiciary and bureaucracy, in supreme command over country has propped up candidature of Imran Khan for Premiership.
Predictably so, Imran Khan has emerged as the winner in the elections marred by allegations of wide spread rigging. Characterised by unprecedented delay, results were announced after two days. Rather surprisingly, despite establishment’s support, Khan fell short of the magical number of 137 to form the government. Meanwhile, all political parties alleged massive rigging and rejected the results of the polls. They demanded transparent re-elections and threatened country wide protests. As per the latest reports, PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) having won 116 of 269 seats is in talks with smaller parties to form government. PLM(N) and PPP the two major parties has outrightly rejected the prospects of joining PTI to form a coalition government. Setting the stage ready for the swearing of the “Taliban Khan” as new prime minister of Pakistan, army would invariably engineer defections to accomplish the task of installing Khan at the highest seat of civil administration. Punjab is a crucial province vital for governance and consolidation of civil administration. Hence PTI is also exploring all ways to form federal government in PLM (N) strong hold Punjab.
While Pakistan military is pompously celebrating consecutive second transition of power, free and fair elections, US and Europe expressed concerns over pre-electoral curbs on freedom of expression and questioned transparency of electoral process. With military in firm control over civil administration 2018 elections have been more brutal, opaque and massively rigged. Establishment which is determined to consolidate its control over the country, has confined Sharifs who tenaciously fought Army’s attempts to marginalise to jail. Irked by Nawaz Sharif’s attempts to assert control over administration, military successfully nipped chances of his re-elections orchestrating judicial coup last year. Now, months before election, military slapped corruption charges against Asif Zardari and his sister and imposed restrictions on PPP (Pakistan’s Peoples Party) to hold election rallies. PPP which is already trailing in popularity is now confined to its traditional stronghold of Sindh province. Having crushed, the dynasty politicians in Pakistan, in a major fillip to its agenda of streamlining terror outfits, establishment allowed over 250 militants to contest the elections. Over the past 30 years, Army has been directly or indirectly in control of the government. It is no different this time. In late 1970’s army which was looking for an urban politician found one in Nawaz Sharif and groomed him to become Prime Minister. With Sharif trying to assert authority of civilian administration, army is now supporting another struggling, flamboyant politician and an Oxford graduate. Unfortunately, for Khan the wait has been over two decades to ascend the throne of Prime Minister unlike Sharif. The similarities don’t end there. Both Sharif and Khan are western-educated and are ardent cricket lovers. While Sharif had an unsuccessful stint as cricketer, Khan won the World Cup for Pakistan and became immensely popular.
Unfortunately, despite being a graduate from Oxford University, Khan now stands in support of blasphemy and sizzles from the platform supported by religious fundamentalists. While the West may get carried away by the suave and flamboyant image as being liberal in his political views, he is just anything but liberal. He is a Taliban apologist and funnelled public finances to madrassas that teach radical Islamism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province under his governance. He now befriends the murderously radicalised Barelvi Muslims who expounds anti-Ahmadiyya bigotry.
In the journey from cricket pitch to prime minister position, Khan has reinvented and morphed himself numerous times. His ambiguous dispositions, lack of experience in governance and manipulability can do much harm to turbulent Pakistan reeling under the triple challenges of growing threat of terrorism, falling economy and growing nuclear arsenal. So far, he enchanted the electorate sporting a Mr.Clean image and anti-corruption crusader. But his party is funded by crony-capitalists. Extolling transparency and clean politics, he welcomed “electables” into his party with open arms. Now these dozens of defectors would extract their pound of flesh inflicting a hard blow to the election cry of Khan- transparency and accountability, the. Khan is just mere tool, army has picked up to bury obstinate Sharif.
After the fall of Pervez Musharaf’s reign in 2008, the popular parties, PML (N) and PPP agreed to resist all attempts of the military to undermine the civilian administration. This ensured a peaceful power transition in 2013 and raised hopes of restitution of democracy. Overpowered by political ambitions, Khan stoked protests across Pakistan raking up allegations of rigging in 2013 election declared as one of the cleanest elections in history of Pakistan. He fomented civilian unrest and chaos and unruly mobs took held Parliament under siege. This civilian emergency invited undue military intervention. In the ensuing political bargain, Sharif was reduced to a nominal head and military regained control over national security and foreign affairs portfolios. Khan’s political ambitions inadvertently opened floodgates for military meddlesomeness. Indeed, such has been the duplicity of English speaking, brash, autocratic captain that he turned into a subservient “army stooge”. But how much ever Imran shout his guts out, “Imran kisi ka putla nahi ban sakta”, he can’t dare cross the redlines of the army, else he will be shown the door just like his predecessors.
While the Pakistani youth who grew up his heroic tales on the cricket field might well consider him as an intimidating and pouncing lion. Victory in the 22 yards pitch managing cricket squad of 20 is nothing compared to the task of leading the nation of 200 million. In fact, Khan in his 22 year long political struggle may have learned it the hard way to take the group along instead of issuing commands. In the process of inching attaining his personal goals, he lost even residual political credibility.
Though Khan has promised a “Naya” Pakistan his incomplete articulation of foreign policy and lack of vision for reviving sinking economy hardly instils any confidence in his Premiership. His muted response to army’s blatant censorship of the media and clamping down on the critiques, journalists and resolute disapproval to comment on rigged elections further raises doubts about his commitment towards an open-democratic society.
Khan’s victory speech besides allaying fears of Pakistan’s fragile domestic stability and economic doldrums has become cause of intense concern. He said, “I want to share the kind of Pakistan I envision -the type of the state that was established in Medina, where widows and poor are taken care of. My inspiration comes from the last prophet who set up an ideal welfare state in Medina. I want Pakistan to become like that”. These opening remarks set alarm bells ringing in India and confounded its worst fears. Khan’s vision lent credence to the seminal work of Venkat Dhulipala, “Creating a new Medina: State power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India” which unequivocally establishes that Pakistan is created to be a Muslim utopia and protector of Muslims across the World. Creation of the Pakistan borne out the deep seated will of Ulemas and fundamentalists to have an identity, who argued that first Pakistan was set up by Prophet when he emigrated from Mecca to Medina. Pakistan which is carved out from British India is second such Islamic state in the history. Idea of Pakistan which has crystallised out of anxiety, spring boarded from the Islamic historical imagination, vocabulary and rhetoric. Pakistan apologists in India and liberal elite of the country refuse to buy this argument. But clearly the foundations of Pakistan are rooted in the idea of establishing an Islamic caliphate. India will be deluding itself if its believes that Pakistan is a democratic country even.
In his speech, Khan said, “If Hindustan’s leadership is ready, we are ready to improve ties with India. If you take one step towards us, we will take two steps towards you”. Besotted by his charm of cricketing days, perhaps, some Indian analysts are ready to ignore his anti-India rants and pitching for bilateral talks. Lest India forgets, freshly elected Pakistani leaders have always sent a message of peace. India shouldn’t fall for this trap and reinvent the cycle of bilateral peace. Khan an offshoot of radical Islam is believed to have confessed that a cricket match against India has been a jihad for him. His overt support to hard core Islamists and fundamentalist clearly outlines his vision for Pakistan. In his earlier political stints, Khan used to regularly address the gathering organised by Qazi Hussain Ahmad, sympathiser of Taliban and Haqqani networks. Hamid Gul, former head of ISI (Inter Service Intelligence), who was responsible for training, recruiting and maintaining the strategic assets of Pakistan, the terror outfits, has been Khan’s political mentor. He is believed to be cofounder of PTI. Khan is believed to have inherited anti-Western attitude from Gul. In all these years, he has never criticised the military dictators of Pakistan- President Zia-ul-Haq and Prevez Musharaf. Because of his allegiances with Gul, Khan also has strong links with ISI. Needless to say, with Khan as the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, military is set to have an upper hand. Heightening of tensions across the border which has been the new normal is all set to intensify under the “Taliban Khan”.