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July 2018 Elections in Pakistan: Select Commentary

31 July

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[Select commentary on July 2018 elections in Pakistan]

  • Imran Khan, as New Leader, Could Help Pakistan Reshape Its Image | Jeffrey Gettleman
  • Mani Shankar Aiyar On Imran Khan’s Victory
  • Why we in India love Imran Khan? | Faraz Ahmad
  • Elections au Pakistan : l’ombre des militaires | Le Monde
  • Tariq Ali: “No Real Choice” at the Ballot Box for the People of Pakistan
  • Pakistan: July 2018 elections - the certainties | Pervez Hoodbhoy
  • Pakistan: Attempts to maneuver polls unacceptable - statement by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)

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The New York Times

News Analysis

Imran Khan, as New Leader, Could Help Pakistan Reshape Its Image

by Jeffrey Gettleman

July 29, 2018

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — For a nation often in the news for all the wrong reasons — suicide bombings, horrific school massacres — Pakistan has reached a turning point that could possibly alter its dysfunctional trajectory.

Imran Khan, the cricket star and A-list celebrity whose political party won this past week’s elections, could use his fame and charisma to reset Pakistan’s troubled relations with the West.

Mr. Khan also may move Pakistan much closer to the expanding sphere of China, a neighbor he has praised conspicuously as a role model.

Or Mr. Khan could simply follow the same path as many Pakistani leaders before him, supporting harsh Islamic laws and showing sympathy for militant groups, policies that have kept Pakistan isolated for years.

Still, Mr. Khan brings something new: more star power and mystique than any recent Pakistani leader and perhaps a better chance to change the country’s narrative, even though the election was widely considered tainted.

“Relatively few Pakistani leaders have won over the West,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director for the South Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “But Khan is familiar with operating in the international world. He already has strong name recognition. He doesn’t need to be introduced.”

Oxford-educated and once married to a wealthy British woman, Mr. Khan is clearly comfortable in the highest circles of Western power brokers. He was close friends with Princess Diana. (Shortly before she died, Mr. Khan has said, he was trying to help her find a new husband.)

Still, the old Mr. Khan is not necessarily the new Mr. Khan. In recent years, he has undergone a complex metamorphosis, distancing himself from his days as a star athlete and ladies’ man. He now expresses sympathy for the Taliban and for Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, which include the death penalty, positions that play well domestically.

“He’s dangerously accommodating of extremists, and anyone who knows him knows this,” said C. Christine Fair, a political scientist at Georgetown University.

The dust has hardly settled from the election, which was marred by allegations of rigging and copious evidence that Pakistan’s military interfered to help Mr. Khan win. Mr. Khan’s party trounced the others, but as of Sunday remained short of a majority in Parliament.

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Supporters of Mr. Khan celebrated his party’s victory in Islamabad.CreditAnjum Naveed/Associated Press

To become prime minister, he needs to win over independent candidates and smaller parties to build a coalition. Most analysts believe he will succeed, although it is not a sure thing.

In many ways, Pakistan is a pivotal nation. It is the world’s sixth-most populous country, with 200 million people. It is also nuclear-armed and strategically located next to India, China, Iran and Afghanistan.

For decades it has been cast in turmoil by suicide bombers, extremist groups and a nefarious spy agency that helped create the Taliban and actively supported Al Qaeda while ostensibly serving as an ally to the United States.

But many parts of the country are safer today than they were a few years ago. New malls, new schools and new Dunkin’ Donuts outlets are going up. And now Pakistan is poised to get a new global salesman.

It is widely expected that if Mr. Khan, 65, becomes prime minister, there will be an initial fascination with him as he tours the world. Most likely, he’ll visit foreign capitals and business titans, seeking help to solve Pakistan’s dire debt crisis and bring in investors. He also seems to have China in mind.

In an address to the nation last week, Mr. Khan mentioned China no fewer than seven times, praising it for lifting millions out of poverty and for fighting corruption. “God willing,” he said, “we’ll learn that from China.”

In another unsubtle signal, his party posted a Twitter message in Chinese extolling China’s achievements and promising improved ties.

Pakistan is hurtling toward possible default and insolvency, and China has already lent it billions of dollars for new roads and railways, at discounted rates. Two days after Mr. Khan’s speech, Pakistani newspapers reported that China would lend the incoming government $2 billion more for “breathing space.”

But assuming Mr. Khan finally gets the prime minister job, he will be entering the inner sanctum with the whiff of scandal.

By all accounts his election victory was far from fair. Human rights groups, academics, Western diplomats and political analysts have said that Pakistan’s army and security services, often referred to here obliquely as “the Establishment,” systematically targeted Mr. Khan’s political rivals in the months before the election, helping him win. But the Establishment chiefs may now be kicking themselves for doing a job too well.

They seem to like Mr. Khan, for the time being, partly because his forcefulness with the United States and tolerance of Islamist extremists reflect how many of Pakistan’s top officers feel. The Establishment feels burned by Mr. Trump, who slashed military aid to Pakistan, and miffed by the broader shift the United States is making to embrace India, Pakistan’s enemy, as a check on China.

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Supporters of the P.M.L.-N. protested on Saturday what they say was a rigged election.CreditRehan Khan/EPA, via Shutterstock

But installing Mr. Khan, analysts say, was not the Establishment’s primary goal. Pakistan’s military has directly ruled for much of its history and meddled during the rest. What the military bosses really wanted this time, analysts say, was a weak civilian government, with the veneer of a democracy. They were so heavy-handed in their tactics they ended up getting neither.

In the months before the election, security services intimidated, blackmailed, arrested and prosecuted the leaders of the governing P.M.L.-N. political party, many observers have said, culminating in the jailing of the party’s leader, Nawaz Sharif, a three-time prime minister, less than two weeks before the vote.

On Election Day, Mr. Khan’s rivals say, soldiers guarding the polls restricted access to ballot counting rooms, raising suspicions of more foul play.

With the competition so thoroughly eviscerated and Mr. Khan genuinely popular, especially among the youth, he now would surge into office with a strong national following. According to the latest updated results released this weekend, his party won nearly four million more votes than its nearest competitor, the P.M.L.-N. Mr. Khan’s party commands a huge lead in the National Assembly with more than 100 seats, compared with P.M.L.-N. at around 64; it also performed well in provincial assemblies.

What this all means is that Mr. Khan, whose success seems partly a creation of the military, might not be so easy to control.

“Khan might be more inclined to butt heads,” said Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar at the Middle East Institute and former State Department intelligence analyst. “The difference with Imran is going to be because he’s a populist, he feels he can go further than Nawaz.”

Conflict with the Establishment, Mr. Weinbaum said, is “almost inevitable.”

Mr. Khan’s erratic personality is a further complication. He is known for running a team of one, making impulsive decisions, contradicting himself and then using his enormous reserves of self-confidence and charisma to dig himself out.

Take his views on religion. He has said that he wants to reform the madrasa system in which countless young Pakistani boys have been brainwashed in Quranic schools to fight for extremist groups. At the same time, Mr. Khan has supported Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and teamed up with hard-line religious groups that a few years ago rioted in Islamabad, the capital.

His sprawling villa on Islamabad’s outskirts, where he spends much of his time, symbolizes his guarded nature. The enormous compound, occupying a craggy hilltop, is tucked behind high walls. At night, you can see thousands of lights from Islamabad twinkling in the distance far below. Even though he’s still officially only one of hundreds of members of Parliament, several dozen police officers this weekend blocked the roads leading to his house and stood in clumps at his gates as if he were already prime minister.

To Western governments, Mr. Khan’s idiosyncrasies may not even matter that much. Analysts say there are only two issues the West really cares about in Pakistan: militant groups and nuclear arms. Mr. Khan will not have much say in either. The military and intelligence establishment handles both.

The biggest issue that Mr. Khan will control is the economy. This is where he could shine as a leader or quickly be subsumed. Pakistan is facing a balance of payments crisis, its currency has rapidly devalued, its debt is soaring.

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The Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, Nawaf Bin Saeed Ahmad Al-Maliki, center, was one of the first foreign dignitaries to congratulate Mr. Khan on his party’s victory.CreditPti EPA, via Shutterstock

Economists say the steps the next prime minister must take are obvious but painful. The national budget (including the military’s) needs to be cut, Pakistanis must pay more for energy, old state-run businesses need to be privatized and taxes — many more taxes — need to be collected.

According to the Pakistani government, last year less than one million out of Pakistan’s 200 million people paid taxes.

Mr. Khan remains most focused on getting the numbers he needs in Pakistan’s Parliament to form a coalition government with him as prime minister. So far, some smaller parties have indicated they will join, but he still has a way to go.

The third-place party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, has been coy about whether it will join Mr. Khan’s side or oppose him. If it did join, that would easily push Mr. Khan’s coalition into the majority.

Most Pakistanis, even those who did not vote for Mr. Khan, believe he will be the next prime minister. Expectations are soaring that he will be able to change his country’s image.

“Everybody thinks of Pakistan as a terrorist world,” said a 16-year-old girl named Mahnoor, who was sitting in the food court of a fancy new mall this week, eating McDonald’s French fries. “It’s not.”

Naveed Majeed, a rice exporter, said foreigners would listen to Mr. Khan because he brings something of an aura.

“And I want him to tell the world we’re not all terrorists,” Mr. Majeed said.

It’s clearly a sensitive subject; many Pakistanis ache for a new story for their country.

Mr. Khan would not be the first Pakistani prime minister with a westernized history. Benazir Bhutto, killed in a suicide bombing in 2007, was elegant, beautiful and a bit of a global fascination as well. She also spent years in England (and the United States). But she failed to radically transform the way most outsiders viewed her homeland.

Part of the reason, said Anatol Lieven, a senior researcher at the New America Foundation, was that Westerners initially saw Ms. Bhutto through a narrow lens as a British-educated upper-class liberal woman.

“They missed everything else about her family, the nature of politics in Pakistan,” he said. “These people are part of systems.”

Salman Masood contributed from Islamabad. Meher Ahmad and Daniyal Hassan contributed reporting from Lahore, Pakistan.

A version of this article appears in print on July 30, 2018, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Pakistan’s Path May Now Rest On Star Power

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ndtv.com, July 26 2018

Mani Shankar Aiyar On Imran Khan’s Victory

So, it’s all over bar the shouting. Imran Khan is the Pakistani Prime Minister for the next five years. The principal lesson to learn is that serial infidelity is the passport to power in both Trump’s America and Imran’s Pakistan. When Imran was hospitalized after falling off a fork-truck lift in the last election, it was the only battle he ever lost in bed! Now he has had his revenge..

More significant than who won is who lost. Hafiz Saeed’s Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek (God is Great Movement) fielded 50 candidates. All of them lost. Great indeed is God! The self-styled "Islam-pasand" parties - the Jama’at-e-Islami, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan, the Milli Awami League, et.al. - banded together in a new political alliance called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (United Implementation Alliance) - under the formidable Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the veteran Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (NWFP) cleric-cum-neta who has even chaired the Senate External Affairs Committee - and lost almost all the seats they contested, not just in Punjab but even on their home ground in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP). Even the Brahelvi Tehreek-e-Labaik-e-Pakistan (Pakistan ’Allah Be Adored’ Movement) has bitten the dust despite fielding close to 200 candidates in about two-thirds of the parliamentary constituencies. Equally, the factional breakaway groups from the principal Islam-pasandparties have uniformly failed to fulfill Pak Senator Sherry Rahman’s nightmare, revealed on election night on one of our TV channels, of terrorists filling the ranks of the Pakistan National Assembly (parliament).

For us in India, the near-universal rejection of Pakistan’s religion-based parties is perhaps the most significant outcome of this election - for it demonstrates (once again) that far from being partisans of fanatical Islamic terrorists, Pakistanis, by and large, reject religious extremism and terror politics. The mainstream of Pakistan’s public opinion is remarkably like India’s: deeply religious but very wary of basing politics on religion, and wedded to the ballot rather than the bullet.

If India and Indians would learn that key lesson, it might open the door to meaningful discussion with Pakistan on some via media to sort out our issues with them. I seriously doubt that the BJP (or, for that matter, any major Indian political party) is willing to pick up the thread that Dr. Manmohan Singh left behind, for ever since Sharm-el-Sheikh 2009, the consensual chorus has been that "talks and terror can’t go together", with little acceptance of the statistically proven fact that without talks, terror only goes up, and that to end terror, talks are of the essence. Since Havana 2007, we have barely taken any constructive steps to operationalize the Indo-Pak agreement to jointly establish an Anti-Terror Mechanism.

The current juncture, that is, the proven juncture when the Pakistan electorate by overwhelming majority has rejected terrorism and religion-based politics, is surely the right juncture at which to engage with an Imran who, anti-Indian rhetoric aside, has won this election even while pledging in his manifesto to work towards resolving matters with India.

Indeed, we should welcome, rather than be apprehensive of, Imran Khan’s espousal of the Kashmir cause, for it was only by frontally addressing the issue of Kashmir with none other than the ’Butcher of Kargil’ that Dr. Manmohan Singh succeeded in injecting so much realism and good sense into the India-Pakistan discourse between 2004 and 2007 that it was Pervez Musharraf, none less, who articulated and labeled the "four-point" programme for J&K that, but for dotting some of the i’s and crossing some of the t’s, was all but concluded when Musharraf began falling. We have never since resumed the dialogue in all of the last ten wasted years.

As for Imran harping on UN Security Council resolutions, let him harp on - provided we get down to talking with him, for only then can we irrefutably point out to him that no one in the UN has, over the last half-century and more,been in the least interested in stirring this particular witch’s brew in the UN; that, in any case, Pakistan is bound by the inter-governmental agreement signed by Bhutto with Indira Gandhi in July 1972 at Simla (as it was then spelt) to bilaterally resolve outstanding issues specifically relating to J&K and not resort to multilateral forums unless accepted by both parties to the Simla Agreement; and that whether Imran likes it or not, our starting point would be the unfinished business of what the Pakistan President of the day called the "4-point formula" for J&K.

With respect to Pakistan’s future relations with India, there were two contradictory trends in evidence in the Pakistan election. For almost all of the campaign, foreign affairs and Indo-Pak relations figured hardly at all. The three principal contenders stuck to their manifesto line to engage with India. It was only at the fag end of the campaign, when the "neck-and-neck" nature of the pre-election polls indicated that both Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice) and the Sharifs’ Pakistan Muslim League-N needed to draw away some of the fringe extremist voters to overtake their rivals that both abandoned reason and decency to out-bombast the other by raking up anti-Indian and even anti-Hindu sentiment. That was more in the nature of electoral one-upmanship than serious policy as these end-of-the-campaign slurs were quite out of sync with the more carefully thought out manifesto pledges. In any case, the only way to find out is through engagement. Absent engagement, the end-of-campaign abuse will become policy.

Pakistan’s cricketer-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly

To go by most commentary on our media, it appears that the point being most laboured is that the Pakistan elections have proved once again the hold that the Pakistan army has over the political process in Pakistan. True - but hardly breaking news. Over the last 70 years, the army has directly ruled Pakistan for about 35 and manipulated civilian governments from behind for the remaining half. The fact is that although the Pakistani army is not a political party, it is the most well-entrenched, deeply-rooted, nation-wide political entity in that unfortunate country. That is a fact to be taken for granted, not a conclusion to be repeatedly established.. Moreover, there is nothing we can do about it.

Indeed, almost all the countries we deal with are petty vicious dictatorships of one kind or the other, backed by or run by the military. In the diplomatic service, I served one year in Hanoi under the dictatorship of Ho Chi Minh (we all loved Uncle Ho), then two years under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein (who just loved our Emergency and even held a rally in Baghdad supporting it), and three years in Pakistan under the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq (who so adored Morarji-bhai that he conferred on him the highest Pakistan honour). So, why are we so sententious about a semi-democracy, semi-dictatorship like Pakistan? If we are so solicitous about them, then let us remember that if anything will help them break out into a genuine full-fledged democracy, it would be a modus vivendi with India that would rescue them from the imperative, as they perceive it, of remaining a national security state.

The question is not whether Imran is more of a hawk or the army is less of a dove than Nawaz. If, indeed, Nawaz was such a soft option, why were we not taking advantage of that instead of wasting four years in tu-tu mein-mein? The real question is whether we in India are hawks or doves when it comes to Pakistan. Kunwar Natwar Singh famously answered that question by riposting: "I am running a foreign policy, not an aviary!" And his counterpart, Mian Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, replied, as the title of his years as Pakistani Foreign Minster puts it, that he was "Neither a Hawk nor a Dove". So, before getting tangled in the question of whether Imran is a hawk or a dove, perhaps we, as Indians, should be asking ourselves whether we are hawks or doves? If our answer is, as Kasuri’s, that we are neither hawks nor doves, merely realists, then surely we have to first engage with Imran to discover whether there is any give, in his view as much as in ours, that enables us to reconcile their national interest, as Imran sees it, with our national interest, as we see it.

That would be the rational way to go. But I doubt that we will take it. For both our political and diplomatic establishment are so set in their smug sense of superiority to the Pakistanis and so predisposed to prejudice in their approach to that country that Imran, Shehbaz, Bilawal or Hafiz Saeed, they are keener to show up Pakistan than do a Vajpayee-Manmohan Singh and just talk to the other side, Kargil or no Kargil.

The ruling party here looks at Pakistan with a jaundiced, communal eye viewing Pakistan as a good excuse to lynch passing Indian Muslims. Others highlight Hindu secularism in juxtaposition to Islamic fanaticism to explain why talking to Pakistanis is akin to banging your head against the wall. While they extol Hindu secularism, they do not admit the possibility of a counterpart Muslim secularism that we could tap into in Pakistan although the civilizational story of composite India is the story of a pan-South Asian heritage to which every community - Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, even agnostics and atheists - irrespective of today’s national boundaries have made their signal contribution.

It is only when the fact of 21st century Pakistanis being largely comprised of secular-minded Muslims is conceded that the boundless possibility of replacing majoritarian communalism in our region with an inclusiveness that ends the emotional fracture of India and Pakistan becomes feasible. However, we are, I fear, aeons from that happy consummation.

(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)

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Faraz Ahmad’s Blog, July 30, 2018

Why we in India love Imran Khan?

by Faraz Ahmad

There is something queer and inexplicable about the prevailing sentiment in India to developments in Pakistan, even more evident this time. Indian media, which is now more pronounced right winger but has always had this latent trait hidden, seems more comfortable with right wing forces in Pakistan and generally feel satisfied and reassured every time an Army general or its stooge assumes power in our western neighbourhood. What’s true of our media is equally true of the upwardly mobile urban middle class, particularly those who still love Narendra Modi.

Again this time there is this mood of welcome for that Army proxy there, cricketer, turned Playboy turned mullah politician, Imran Khan. Imran supports blasphemy law which has victimised the poor minorities in that country; he has opposed overwhelming demand from Pakistan’s liberals to repeal the Second Amendment to the Constitution declaring the Ahmediyas non-Muslims and thus disallowing them to even build their mosques; he flirts with the Taliban and canvassed support from extremist private armies such as Tehreek-e-Talibane Pakistan and the virulently anti-Shia Sipahe Sahaba and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) So let no one get carried away by his clean shaven face. Every utterance of this man has been in support of Pakistan’s obscurantist mullahs and their intolerant stances on all civic and public issues, especially in relation to minorities and liberals, even lending a helping hand to the mass murderers and suicide bombers, who commit these dastardly crime in the hope of entering ‘Jannat’ directly from there and immediately start laying breathlessly 70 Houris in one go,

Those poor illiterate suicide bombers are hardly equipped to ask why they have to go to heaven for the same pleasure that Imran has been enjoying here in this world. For Imran has boasted to his innumerable pretty wives how he has slept around with innumerable women and has at least five illegitimate children right here in India. He is a self-proclaimed misogynist and a philanderer and believes in voodoo, what with his latest wife claiming to have some extra-terrestrial powers and so succeeded in marrying Imran on the offer to make him the Prime Minister if he married her.

The current round of elections in Pakistan are nothing more than a farce. The Army-judiciary duo, having first finished the PPP, had decided long time back to purge Nawaz Sharif and his party the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). First they killed Benazir Bhutto in 2007 in the run up to the 2008 general elections for she represented, however flawed, moderate, accommodative, liberal and secular outlook in Pakistan. The other being Asfandyar Wali Khan, the grandson of Bacha Khan in Khyber Pakhtunawa province, who has been silenced by suicide bombers and fanatic mullahs, created and pampered by the Army/ISI.

Such an obvious proxy of the army-mullah combine campaigned to end corruption. But that has always been the slogan of right wing forces, who when they come to power, break all corruption records as has been proved time and again, globally but most of all in Pakistan which is far ahead of India on this score at least. There was once a retired Air Marshal of Pakistan, Air Marshal Asghar Khan who too formed his own party calling it Pakistan Tehreeke Istaqlal (PTI), again on the specious alibi of fighting corruption. Specious because every Pakistani knows that no institution nor individual can beat the organised loot that the Pakistani army has been indulging in soon after the state of Pakistan was formed partitioning India on communal lines.

Back in 1977 when the then first elected Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was besieged by the mullahs Asghar Khan and many others like him joined the Jamaate Islami and other Jamaats to oust Bhutto by forming the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). General Mohammad Ziaul Haq overthrew Bhutto through a cunning coup on July 5, 1977. By July 3 Bhutto had succeeded in persuading PNA leaders to sign a peace accord. But it was Asghar Khan who insisted upon them to hold back for a day using any plea, and lo and behold on the night of July 4-5, Zia got the Army out and arrested all political leaders starting with Bhutto and announcing a 90 day “Operation Fairplay”. He was cunning and deceitful because from day one he never intended to hold elections as he promised nor to do any harm to Bhutto’s opponents. He was there to grab power and enforce a military-mullah rule in Pakistan by killing Bhutto through a judicial murder. Asghar Khan, as became evident then, was privy to and of Zia. He died early this year just two years short of a century by merging his party into Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreeke Insaf (PTI).Does this leave anyone in doubt about the politics of Imran Khan or that he is anything more than a puppet of the Army junta.

The Indian media and analysts are gloating over the fact that this is the third successive election in which regime change has taken place through democratic means. But that is farthest from truth. The way Army got rid of Nawaz again through their chosen judges is no more a secret with Justice Shaukat Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court saying “In different cases, the ISI forms benches of its choice to get desired results. The ISI had asked the chief justice to make sure that Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz should not come out of jail before the 25 July election. It also had asked him not to include me in the bench hearing the appeal of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter in the Avenfield case. The chief justice told ISI that he would make a bench of its choice.”

The point is not so much as what is happening in Pakistan as why do we in India always back the wrong horse. We loved Zia so much and he in turn loved the Janata Party equally bestowing ‘Sitarae Imtiaz’ honour on former Prime Minister Morarji Desai. Zia had greater affection for Vajpayee. Why because Morarji and Vajpayee were one on not condemning Bhutto’s murder by Zia. Our current Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar as Editor of Sunday, flew to Islamabad in his glorious hey days when he swore by secularism and returned singing paeans of that mullah in khaki shamelessly in his cover story.

Nawaz Sharif was originally a creation of Zia and a hardcore right winger who encouraged and pampered the creation of private armies each professing to kill in the name of their respective brand of Islam, Jaishe Mohammad, Jamaatud Dawa, Tehreek Talibane Pakistan, Lashkar Taiba, Lashkare Jhangvi, Sipahe Sahaba. As long as he let loose these criminal elements he was a trustworthy political leader for the Pakistani establishment and we too had profound love for Mian saheb.

But with Benazir dead on the one hand giving him the opportunity to try and beard her “secular” constituency and on the other seeking to rein in the Army as well as try former President General Parvez Musharraf, the Pakistani establishment decided to prop up this political non entity called Imran Khan, who isn’t even good looking anymore. And surprise of surprises we too seem to be believing that he is actually an honest man come to fight corruption who has rightfully earned the people’s mandate.

It seems we have made up our mind about Pakistan long ago and a liberal and progressive person who does not believe in disenfranchising the Ahmediyas, minorities Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and even Shias there, defies our pre conceived image of Pakistan seeing only the minority baiters as the leaders. Perhaps this gives us sufficient justification to treat our minorities in India the same way. And if you peruse the social media this will become amply clear.

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Elections au Pakistan : l’ombre des militaires | Le Monde

Editorial. Si la victoire au Pakistan de l’ex-star du cricket Imran Khan, aux élections générales, porte l’espoir d’un renouveau de la démocratie pakistanaise, elle invite à la prudence sur la réalité d’un tournant politique.

https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2018/07/31/elections-au-pakistan-l-ombre-des-militaires_5337824_3232.html

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[Pre-Election Commentary]

The Real News Network, July 19, 2018

Tariq Ali: “No Real Choice” at the Ballot Box for the People of Pakistan

Corruption keeps growing like cancer in Pakistan. This combined with military repression and on-going terror attacks from the Islamic State, Pakistanis will see a continuation of the status quo, says Tariq Ali

SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Pakistan is heading for a crucial and tumultuous election next week. Leading up to the vote, one of the country’s past disgraced politicians, Nawaz Sharif, who got caught up in the infamous Panama Papers scam, returned to Pakistan from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he was in exile at his own villa. He was immediately taken to prison to serve a 10-year prison sentence for corruption. Now, the same day that Sharif arrived in Pakistan, on July 13, the country experienced its second worst suicide bombing ever. The bomb, for which the Islamic State took responsibility, killed 150 and wounded over 300 people. The attack targeted an election rally in the town of Mastung, in the southwest of Pakistan. One hundred and six million Pakistanis are eligible to vote in the parliamentary election on July 25. However, Pakistan’s independent human rights organization says that these elections could be questionable. Activists accuse the military of intimidating candidates and journalists. Also, numerous extremist candidates who have been previously accused of fomenting violence and barred from running for office are now being allowed to participate in this election.

Joining me now to analyze Pakistan’s upcoming election is Tariq Ali. Tariq is a writer and filmmaker. He has written more than two dozen books on world history and politics, and seven novels. His 1970 book “Uprising in Pakistan: How to Bring Down a Dictatorship” was, I believe, re-released by Verso books. Also, Tariq is an editor of The New Left Review. Thanks for joining us here, Tariq.

TARIQ ALI: Very good to be with you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Tariq, let’s start off with contextualizing this tumultuous situation in Pakistan leading up to the elections.

TARIQ ALI: Well, basically- you know, without mincing words- the Sharif brothers, who have run the country for some years with popular support, they have the largest province in the country, the Punjab, with them, where the PPP, which was the second-largest force in that particular province, has virtually been eliminated. A third party has arisen called the Party of Justice, led by the former cricketer Imran Khan. It’s, the party’s initials spell PTI in English. And Imran Khan is now the principal challenger to the Sharif brothers.

But as you said in your introduction, the feeling, the perception in Pakistan, is that this election has already been rigged structurally by massive pressure on pro-Sharif members of Parliament to split from the party of the Sharif brothers and to stand as independents. And the press has been barred from publicizing many of the things Nawaz Sharif has said. His pro-Sharif demonstrations have been either banned from some of the television networks, or shown in a completely distorted fashion. So there is absolutely no doubt that the military-political complex that governs this country, and has done so for many years, wants the Sharif brothers out.

If they have effectively managed to neutralize the senior Sharif, Nawaz, charges of corruption, probably true. Many, many other charges of corruption for which he wasn’t brought to court are well known. The problem is this: that if this is the main charge against the Sharif brothers, it is a charge that could be leveled against all the other parties. I mean, the former president belonging to the People’s Party, Asif Zardari, was a well-known [trickster] and, you know, a great corrupt politician. The party of Imran Khan, the PTI, there’ve been a number of scandals, financial scandals related to that party. So being corrupt is not a big deal, as far as Pakistani politics are concerned. And of course many people argue, not incorrectly, that the military itself is corrupt. That its last dictator, Pervez Musharraf suddenly became incredibly wealthy. The minute you’re appointed chief of staff of the Pakistan army, it comes with massive land deals, et cetera, et cetera.

So on its own, the charge of corruption doesn’t have the same impact which it would have had, say, 25 or 30 years ago. People know the entire ruling elite is corrupt, there’s very few honest people around. And they vote for a party despite all of that. So if, as the human rights organizations are alleging, this election has already been rigged, then the Sharif brothers will probably lose. The question is the, I think, that the establishment, the military political establishment, would like the situation in Parliament when no one gets a majority. Then they can maneuver from behind the scenes and find some neutral dud who can be made prime minister, and who will do their bidding. So-. And we don’t know what will happen after the election results are declared, either. So we’re waiting for next week before politics in Pakistan moves forward or backwards.

SHARMINI PERIES: So what choice do people have, Tariq? I mean, Nawaz Sharif and gang have had their time at the helm. Things didn’t particularly change that dramatically for the people in Pakistan. And the Justice Movement and the PTI, as you say, is also corrupt. What choice do ordinary people have?

TARIQ ALI: I’m afraid no choice at all. That is the reality, and has been the reality of Pakistani politics now for many years, that corruption is like a cancer that is eaten every political party and every major institution in the country. The only question people ask is if we vote for party X or party Y, will there be buses allowed to come near our village? Will a, will a road be built, will we have access to electricity? Politicians who promise that are given a chance and tried, whatever their party is.

And Nawaz Sharif, and his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif, who has run the province of the Punjab, has in some cases delivered on these promises. It’s not that no promise has been fulfilled. On this level they have delivered, which is one reason for their popularity. They may be corrupt, but they do deliver the goods from time to time. And people would rather go with the devil they know than the devil waiting in the wings. It’s as simple as that. There is no sort of huge or great or significant force on the left which is challenging any of these parties.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, as we all know, Nawaz Sharif is in prison. Is he planning to run from prison? Or is his party, if they win, select another head of the party?

TARIQ ALI: No. He’s already said that he’s not interested in running. His younger brother Shehbaz Sharif has been appointed head of the party. He is currently the chief minister in the provincial government of the Punjab. So he’s already exercising power on a provincial level. Were, through some freak chance, the Muslim League to win the elections next week Shehbaz would automatically become prime minister once he gets a seat in the National Assembly. So that would be the state of affairs.

Were no party to come to power, then the president, and behind them the agencies of the intelligence services, both civilian and non-civilian, would come in to play determining who was going to be the next prime minister of the country. And they might pick an independent who’s managed to get elected with or without their help, and appoint him and construct a coalition. The other, of course, big news was that they were back-. There have been reports for several months now that the ISI, the main military intelligence agency, had been backing Imran Khan. But there’s no confirmation of this. I mean, there’s a new book out on Imran by his former wife, who he divorced, which tells stories to make your hair stand on end, both of political corruption and of, well, you know, religious malfeasance, and sexual corruption. So if this book is circulating like hotcakes, whether the military will want to take a risk now with him is an open question.

SHARMINI PERIES: Tariq, you mentioned the role that the military is playing in this election, and of course historically it’s had a grip on political power in Pakistan. Explain their role, and tell us a little bit more about the grip they have on who rules Pakistan.

TARIQ ALI: Well, look, ever since the country was founded, and after the first military coup in 1958, the army has played a huge role in Pakistani politics, whether officially, whether in de facto or [de jure]. You know, they have run the country even during periods of civilian rule. Nothing can happen, nothing fundamental can happen, without their approval. Especially in the realm of foreign policy, where they’re critically important. And one reason they dislike Nawaz Sharif is they think that he’s been trying to escape their stranglehold in relation to India, in particular, and trying to do deals with the Indian leadership.

Now, so that is not something new. And that, by the way, is not just Pakistan where it happens in an extreme way. I mean, the National Security Council of the United States has always had senior figures from the military sitting there. And recently, even in Britain, which preserves [inaudible] these questions and tries to, you know, conceal it. The serving commander in chief of the British Army appeared on British television to say that were Jeremy Corbyn to be elected prime minister there would be unrest in the army.

So it’s, you know, in Pakistan it’s done relatively openly. In other countries it’s done quietly and behind the scenes. But the military, being the spinal cord of most of these states, is a major player. And as politicians continue to fail in different parts of the world, the military gets more power. And in Pakistan this is, we’ve seen it many a time and we’re seeing it now.

SHARMINI PERIES: Tariq, recently President Trump cut military aid to Pakistan because he said that the government of Pakistan is not doing enough to combat the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And, of course, in the border region. But what effect is this having on the grip that the military has on Pakistan?

TARIQ ALI: Nothing so far. I mean, basically, the allegations that they’ve done nothing is wrong. When you talk to the Pashtun population in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they see, they’ve been displaced; internally displaced refugees. That’s how they refer to that. Wide areas of Pashtuns have been cleared out, and they’re living in camps, in bad conditions. So they feel very bitter about this, because of course not all of them, in fact not even a majority of them, are supporters of the Taliban, or some of the groups which the ISI has backed in the past. And they now feel that they are being made the victims.

And of course the, you know, the Pakistan army defends the interests of the Pakistani state, just like the Americans doing in their own role. So they haven’t given up on Afghanistan yet. They have close links with important factions in the Taliban and other groups. So it was slightly unreal to expect the Pakistani state to give up on its only victory ever in the region, which was the [crime] of the Taliban helped by Pakistan. They’re not going to give up on that any more than that any U.S. president would give up on what they regard as crucial American interests. And so cutting off aid is not going to change too much. Pakistan has good and close relations with the Chinese economically, and politically, too. And so the Chinese will probably fill the vacuum whenever things get tough.

SHARMINI PERIES: Tariq, in your TeleSur English program The World Today, you recently reported on a new political movement in Pakistan in the Pashtun region, known as Pashtun Tahafuz movement, or the PTM. Tell us a little bit more about who they are and, and the significance of this group.

TARIQ ALI: A [non-violent movement], they specify that very clearly, created to help the Pashtun, ordinary Pashtun people, against the victimisation they suffer from either U.S. drone attacks or by their own government, which is trying to show that it’s doing something in order to get more money, but targets people who are usually innocent of those charges. And the Pashtuns now have huge conurbations, refugees living in Karachi, Lahore, et cetera.

So it’s, it’s a growing community, and they’ve formed this movement to defend themselves politically, not by arms. And have been, you know, some of their leaders have been arrested. Other activists have been killed. But they see, it seems to be the best thing that’s happened in Pakistan for a long time. Of course, they are being denounced as being anti-Pakistan and nonsense like that, which they are not. They simply want to protect their own people.

SHARMINI PERIES: Tariq Ali, always a pleasure to speak with you.

TARIQ ALI: Good to talk to you, Sharmini.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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sacw.net

Pakistan: July 2018 elections - the certainties by Pervez Hoodbhoy http://www.sacw.net/article13831.html

Pakistan: Attempts to maneuver polls unacceptable - statement by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) http://www.sacw.net/article13836.html

P.S.

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