The recent Pakistan polls are a clear example of how the military interfered and rigged them to catapult Imran Khan to power.
Few things in recent times has surprised this writer more than the breathtaking claim, even by Indians who ought to have known better, that the parliamentary elections held in Pakistan on July 25, 2018, were completely free and above board. The fact is that they were not, and were blatantly rigged in favour of Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), who is set to become the Prime Minister.
Some have argued that they saw candidates of all parties campaigning freely and people voting without any interference by the Army or any other agency. Just because there was no such visible interference during polling, means nothing. The intimidating presence of 370,000 troops throughout Pakistan on polling day was more than a reminder that the Army called the shots and the presence of troops, even within polling booths, conveyed the impression, rightly or wrongly, that uniformed men would know which individuals voted for whom. It was also common talk that the Army wanted Imran Khan to win. People in Pakistan know one can pay a very heavy price for ignoring its writs.
The argument that one indication that the elections were free and fair was that candidates could be seen campaigning freely, ignores the fact that not all were allowed to become candidates. One of them was none other than former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who was debarred from holding any political office by an eyebrow-raising judicial verdict. Not just that. More than 100 candidates of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Sharif’s party, were made to change their allegiance or stand down. Criminal cases were slapped on more than 17,000 activists of the (PML-N) for violating “election rules.”
Any argument that changing of party loyalties mean nothing because it is frequent in India as well, is laughable. India is a vibrant democracy in which the Army has never played any political role; neither it nor any other agency can force candidates in any election to change sides or desist from contesting. The Army’s role in Pakistan, where it has run dictatorships for long spells, is well-known.
When not running Governments directly, it has been puppeteering elected civilian Governments from behind the scenes, and staging coups to assume power when its dictates went unheeded. In the case of the recent elections, it had made life, to say nothing of contesting, difficult for PML-N candidates who refused to heed it orders by sabotaging their campaigning and hindering their movements.
Third, vendors of the theory that recent elections in Pakistan were free and fair, play down the Army’s scarcely-secret role in compelling a section of the country’s electronic media to launch a vicious campaign against Nawaz Sharif and his family. While it can be nobody’s claim that the Sharifs are pure as driven snow, a significant part of the offensive comprised gross exaggerations and even blatant lies like Nawaz Sharif receiving $400 million for allowing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emissary, Navin Jindal, to arrive in Pakistan sans a visa. And this lie was spread just on the eve of the elections — in fact, after the campaigning had ended — when there was not time to shred it before polling.
The media blitzkrieg against Nawaz Sharif and family appears more than a bit odd because there is virtually no political party or leader in Pakistan which or who has not been accused of corruption. The knight in shining armour with a blazing sword, the great crusader against corruption, Imran Khan, is no exception. On August 7, 2018, he appeared before Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which asked him 15 questions regarding his alleged misuse of Mi-17 and Ecureuil helicopters owned by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial Government which is run by his party, PTI. The resultant loss to the State exchequer was Rs 2.17 crore.
The NAB ordered a probe in February after Geo News had reported the matter. While Imran needed time to campaign for the general elections held on July 25, 2018, he could have been asked to appear in May or the first half of June without affecting his electioneering. This did not happen; nor did the media go to town over the massive corruption marking the functioning of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government.
The argument that the Army did not intimidate but let out a few subtle hints and the media observed “self censorship”, suggesting that the media caved in needlessly, ignores the Inter-Services Intelligence’s role in dealing with journalists who had invited its ire. The most shocking, of course, is its abduction, savage torture and murder in May 2011 of the outstanding journalist, Syed Saleem Sahzad. The crime, which has gone unpunished, had sent out a clear message: You will have to pay a heavy price if you cross our path.
One could then hardly expect the media to ignore the Army’s “subtle hints” to its bidding.
It is, thus, an election thoroughly rigged by the Army that has hoisted Imran Khan to power. Instead of swinging the cherry, he will now swing to the dictates of the men in Khaki. The sooner this is realized, the better.
Writer: Hiranmay Karlekar
Courtesy: The Pioneer