Pakistan elections: Imran Khan triumphs Army, highlights call for ‘Revolution’

India’s neighbouring country, Pakistan went to polls on February 8. Although, the elections in Pakistan hold not much relevance as the public is deemed to elect the leader ‘selected’ by the “establishment” which actually refers to the military. But, this time, the Pakistani ‘awaam’ had other plans. Imran Khan, a celebrated cricketer-turned-politician, who has been languishing in jail for the last 6-8 months was able to pull off an ‘upset’ by defying the strongest force in Pakistan. Even though the poll results have changed quite dramatically amid widespread allegations of rigging, this result has highlighted the changing discourse among the public regarding democracy.

Imran Khan’s stint as Pakistan PM

Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi was a superstar not just in Pakistan, but even globally, throughout his cricketing years. Multiple reports claim that Khan was given offer to join politics both by military dictator Zia Ul Haq and…Nawaz Sharif, but the offer was rejected both times. Hardly had anyone imagined, that the second name and Khan would go on to turn up as cut-throat rivals in future. By the end of the 90s, Imran Khan was trying to build a cancer hospital and was arranging funds. It was at that time, that he decided to enter politics.

His start wasn’t very good as he lost all five constituencies, his party contested. Rising slowly up the ranks, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf became the second-biggest party in 2013 and emerged as the single-largest party in 2018. All through this while, it was quite clear that Khan enjoyed popular support from the ‘military establishment’ as they wanted another option to act as their political pawn. His closeness with the establishment was so high that he was often termed the ‘Laadla’. It is also alleged that just like the Pak military conspired against Khan, a similar treatment was inflicted on PML-N and PPP before 2018.

A year ago, PM Imran Khan promised Naya Pakistan but gave a series of embarrassments

Imran Khan, although the most popular leader in Pakistan, was far from effective as PM (Photo: The Print)

But, things started to change as Khan reigned into power in 2018. Unlike what many hold the impression of Imran Khan — keeping in mind his superstar image, colourful love life and foreign education — he turned out to be, rather transformed himself, into an “orthodox and devout Muslim”. His conservative and misogynist remarks made headlines. His idea against Ahmaddiyas and support of anti-blasphemy laws very well underscored this. But this was not what caused problems for him (this is anyway an appreciable trait in Pakistan).

The main conflict with the military arose from his foreign policies. Khan wanted to shut down the US influence on Pakistan and was living under a mirage of creating an ‘Islamic bloc’ with Turkey and Saudi Arabia. All this started upsetting the military which had high stakes involved in the US. Even Washington felt awry of this attitude, as they were used to dealing with the military only.

Nor was Imran any good for ties with India. The 2019 Pulwama attack followed by airstrikes by Indian Air Force did heat up the situation. Further, the abrogation of Article 370 almost ended any talking terms between the two neighbours. His continuous strong remarks against Indian leadership showed that there was little intent in him to normalise ties with India. So, even in this area, he was not a very successful leader.

But, it was the military appointments when Khan collided head-on with the establishment. He wanted complete autonomy over the appointments and foreign policy. This was just the last nail in the coffin, as the very military whose ‘Laadla’ Khan used to be, now turned against him, and orchestrated a no-confidence motion backed by a united opposition which was enough to topple Khan’s government. This was finally the end of Imran Khan’s premiership, making him just another leader who failed to complete a full term as PM.

Imran Khan Arrest Updates: Ex-PM Warns of 'Imminent Disaster', Accuses Punjab Govt of Conspiring Against Him - News18

Imran Khan being arrested by Pakistani security forces (Photo: News 18)

Platter of Conspiracies against Imran Khan

Even in the last days of his premiership, Khan strongly voiced his reservations against the ‘establishment’ running the country. He even alleged with a cypher — which was soon going to become a thorn in his back — that the US wanted his government to collapse. After being toppled, he hit the streets with a strong campaign and ‘Haqiqi Azadi’ (real freedom) marches. Throughout his agenda was clear, that Pakistan needs to shed off its establishment and obsession with the West and move towards an autonomous and strong policy framework.

This was perhaps the first time a Pakistani leader had taken on the military so intensively. And to a surprise, Khan’s campaign was becoming massively popular as the public too was resonating with Khan’s theme. This anti-military sentiment reached its peak on May 9, 2023, when Khan was arrested in the Toshakhana case (for allegedly not disclosing earnings from gifts received as PM). The PTI leaders and supporters created havoc with heavy marches which turned violent at many places, with protestors even attacking the army establishments. The situation got so serious that Pakistan had to use strong force to crush the rebellion.

After around a month, Khan got bail and got out. But the military was ready with its next move and even stringent one. It started prosecuting almost all PTI leaders, workers and supporters for attacking army units. To make the cases more intense, the trials were being run at military courts (more stringent trials almost treating the accused as terrorists). Even the family members of the leaders were being tried. Slowly, the pressure reached its boiling point and many PTI leaders started leaving the party.

Months later, the military had made a foolproof plan. Firstly the Pakistan National Assembly (parliament) was dissolved 2 days prior to its actual term, and then delimitation was announced, leading to the polls getting delayed from October 2023 to February 2024, giving the army much-needed time to settle the matter and create a ‘favourable’ ground.

PTI Stripped Of Its Bat Symbol Ahead Of Pak General Elections | World

Imran Khan’s party PTI was stripped of its iconic bat symbol forcing it to field candidates independently (Photo: Ommcom News)

Imran Khan was again arrested on August 3, 2023, in the same Toshakhana case. While he was in jail, as many as 170 more cases were lodged against him. The establishment had kept all the strong cases so well aligned that the former cricketer was not allowed to come out of jail even after getting bail in one or the other case. Along with Khan, his aides Pervez Elahi and Shah Mehmood Qureshi too were behind bars. Khan was convicted in three cases; the Toshakhana case (14 years), the Cypher case (10 years) and even a so-called ‘un-Islamic’ marriage case (7 years each to Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi). Finally, like the last nail in the coffin, the Election Commission of Pakistan stripped his party of its iconic ‘bat’ symbol too with Pakistan’s apex court first siding with Khan, but later bowing down to the “desired scenario.”

One can understand the extent of the persecution of Khan by the fact that a World Cup montage on Pakistan was released but it didn’t show any glimpse of the only cricketer who led the team to WC glory. His small clip was added only after heavy backlash from all circles. In another shocker, the broadcast of a T20I game between Pakistan and New Zealand was stopped after some supporters were seen waving posters of Imran Khan.

On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif, who was in exile after being convicted in multiple corruption cases, made a big political comeback. Returning from London, he saw being acquitted in all cases one by one. It was very clear looking at the way Khan was being convicted and Sharif was being acquitted, who is behind what and what is wanted here. Interestingly, the army had played a big role in Sharif’s ouster, but still they wanted him back, as he is still acceptable against someone challenging his authority.

So, the game was all set. Pakistan’s most popular leader was in jail with 31 years of conviction and his party stripped off its symbol and major leaders. As a result, the PTI candidates contested as ‘independents’ ( a word that would define the politics in a few days). For a scenario, one can’t even imagine that even in India, a party will be able to convince its voters to vote for an independent candidate in each and every constituency in the country. So, for Pakistan, which is much behind in terms of literacy and awareness, this was always a mounting task. But, destiny had other ideas.

Nawaz Sharif criticised for using state machinery to stage political comeback

Nawaz Sharif was the ‘selected’ one this time having all the backing of the ‘establishment’ (Photo: Deccan Herald)

February 8 Elections

This day will go down as ‘historic’ in Pakistan’s history. For the first time, the awaam defied its most trusted institution the ‘establishment’. The very scenario, almost everyone felt was unlikely became the reality. After the polling was closed and counting started, many mouths were left open in shock. The PTI-backed independents were leading the race with a massive margin. Some unofficial counting showed them leading on over 150 seats out of 265 contested. To a surprise, Nawaz Sharif was trailing in both the seats he contested. The ‘London Plan’ — as Khan calls the whole episode — had failed badly.

Then came another twist, as the counting was stopped overnight, internet shutdown was enforced and army officers raged into the booths. Videos and witness testimonies confirm massive rigging to elect the ‘selected’ one. After the counting started in the morning and slowly the official results started coming in, the game had changed completely. The independents had come down just below 100, while PML-N (Sharif’s party) and PPP (Zardari’s party) reached respectable totals (but still way behind anything called majority). How precarious the situation was can be understood by the fact that in the only seat, Nawaz Sharif won eventually, more votes were secured by him than were polled by voters. A joke popularly surfaced on social media, ‘The Pakistan Army can neither win war nor can rig an election’.

Protests rock Pakistan as Imran Khan's PTI alleges vote rigging in general elections | World News - Times of India

The rigged election result has sparked massive protests across Pakistan (Photo: Times of India)

What it means for Pakistan

Now, as I narrated the whole story above. It is quite clear, Imran Khan is not the best leader for a country like Pakistan. He is guided by very flawed extreme policies and nor is he any good for ties with India. So, many of you might wonder, why the hell have I been sympathetic towards him. Well, the reason is although I never support any of Pakistan’s evil intentions, I don’t hate the country either. I don’t believe that one has to hate Pakistan to the core and consider it as an enemy for being called a patriotic. It is in Pakistan’s best interests that its military is shown its place and the country evolves as a ‘democracy’.

Now, however, utopian this idea may sound, at least the voters of Pakistan have shown that they too believe in this idea. They too are fed up with the military and its proxy governments. The mandate — irrespective of what it shows at the end — is strongly against the Pakistan military and their dictatorship. If Pak Army Chief Asim Munir and his proxy Nawaz Sharif had even a bit of shame left, should have gone into exile.

After all, we in India, too have had a varied share of leaders, ranging from a democratic Nehru to a dictatorial Indira, from someone as bad as Morarji Desai and VP Singh to strong leaders like Vajpayee, and reformists like Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao. Currently, we have Mr Modi, who despite all the flaws and differences one may have with him, he has projected India strongly on the global stage. That’s how a democracy works and progresses. That also precisely explains the gap between India and Pakistan after 75 years of independence.

Also, one noteworthy point here is the unique campaign carried out by PTI and Imran Khan. While he was in jail, his party took his messages and used artificial intelligence to create his speeches on social media. The party cadre was strongly rooted on the ground and carried out a massive campaign using technology and social media. Of course, credit goes to Khan as well for being so resilient despite all the pressure, while many would have broken much earlier. One more thing I noted was there are so many women leaders standing with PTI despite all the pressure. In a country like Pakistan, this is a big feat.

What lies ahead for Pakistan

As it is said in Pakistan ‘The military has never won a war and never lost an election’. But this time they did, irrespective of what the final tally says. Now, negotiations are underway between PML-N and PPP for a coalition (which would still require other smaller parties to reach a majority). According to the latest developments, after a consensus couldn’t be reached on Nawaz’s name, his brother Shehbaz Sharif might become the PM again, while Asif Ali Zardari will be given the President post again (he served earlier too).

But, such a weak and fractured coalition is bound to have multiple differences and is doomed to fail. Hardly anyone sees this arrangement as long-term. So, it remains to be seen, will the Pak military intervene again after setting up a proxy government (keeping in mind no PM has completed the full term). Also, what will be the ultimate fate of Imran Khan, will he ever come out of jail and achieve what he rightfully deserved according to people’s will; all these questions lie in the grave of time. But, whatever happens, the truth is the ‘Kaptaan’ has triumphed against the corrupt military establishment and has highlighted what the awaam thinks within suppressed voices.

“A country’s destiny can never change if its people don’t want to change it”: Imran Khan

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