ByÂ C. Christine Fair (Foreign Affairs)
Newcomers to Pakistani politics greeted the outcome of Wednesdayâ€™s general electionâ€”an apparent victory for former cricket star Imran Khanâ€™s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) partyâ€”with optimism. They were quick to note that Pakistani authorities focused onÂ increasing female participation, both as candidates and as voters. (Although women have had the right to vote since the country came into existence in 1947,Â cultural normsÂ have oftenÂ denied them the right to cast their ballots.)Â The Wall Street JournalÂ gushed that Khanâ€™s apparent victory will â€œbreak the countryâ€™s two-party system.â€Â Others wondered whether his election will have salubrious effects on Pakistanâ€™sÂ shambolic economy,Â foreign policy, orÂ internal security.
Those of us who have watched Pakistan for decades, however, viewed the election with a more jaundiced eye. It was marked byÂ appalling levels of electoral violence, including an election day suicide bombing in Quetta that killed at least 31. Second, the result was predetermined by Pakistanâ€™s powerful army, which engaged inÂ electoral malfeasanceÂ for months leading up to the election and on election day itself.Â The army was hell-bent upon securing Khanâ€™s victory and even encouraged political parties with overt ties to terrorist groups to field several hundred candidates, alongside some 1,500 candidates tied to Pakistanâ€™s right-wing Islamist parties. These right-wing groups will help forge Khanâ€™s electoral coalition, underwritten by Pakistanâ€™s army and the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the intelligence agency that does the armyâ€™s dirty work at home and abroad.
Predictably, this election, like virtually every previous election in Pakistan, will have few consequences for Pakistanâ€™s behavior at home or abroad. This is because the power to alter these policies resides in the armyâ€™s general headquarters in Rawalpindi, not in the parliament or prime ministerâ€™s office in Islamabad.
SADIQ AND AMEEN
The army has directly controlled Pakistan through dictatorship for 30 years of the countryâ€™s history and indirectly controlled it for the rest. Thanks to the armyâ€™s various ruses, no democratically elected prime minister has completed his or her term. Throughout the 1990s, the army asserted its authority through the use of a constitutional amendment,Â Article 58-2(b), introduced by Pakistanâ€™s third military dictator, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, which allowed the president to dismiss the parliament and state assemblies. During periods of military rule, the president was the army chief. During periods of civilian rule, the army allied with the president. The army lost this power in 2010, when President Asif Ali Zardari promulgated theÂ 18th Amendment, which removed the presidentâ€™s power to dissolve the parliament, once again rendering Pakistan a parliamentary democracy led by a prime minister.
Yet the army soon cultivated new methods of undermining civilian governance, including ISI-sponsoredÂ mass protestsÂ and collaborationÂ with Pakistanâ€™s Supreme Court. Despite the tendency of some analysts toÂ praise the court, it has in fact consistently colluded with the deep state over the course of Pakistanâ€™s troubled history, principally by supporting theÂ countryâ€™s various military coups.
In this election, the court was instrumental to the armyâ€™s scheme to elect Khan. In August 2017, in response to a corruption investigation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif spearheaded by Khan, the Supreme Court ousted Sharif by declaring him neitherÂ sadiqÂ (truthful) norÂ ameenÂ (honest), disqualifying him from holding office underÂ Article 62Â of the constitution. (This despite theÂ admissionÂ by one of the justices that the constitution leavesÂ sadiqÂ andÂ ameenÂ undefined.) The court also used Section 99(f) of the Representation of the People Act of 1976, which permits a person to be disqualified if he or she is not â€œsagacious, righteous and non-profligate.â€ Sharif was subsequently banned from politics for life and arrested along with his daughter.This election, like virtually every previous election, will have few consequences for Pakistanâ€™s behavior at home or abroad.
Although Khan benefited from this new tool, he will have to watch his back. Khan has not proven his fealty to the army, and given the allegations circling him aboutÂ corruptionÂ andÂ cocaine use, the latter of which is a capital crime in Pakistan, he will be vulnerable to similar attacks should he disappoint his masters.
THE WRATH OF KHAN
The army has a long history of selecting Pakistanâ€™s prime minister or at least creating the conditions to ensure that an undesirable prime minister can be easily removed. This time around, the armyâ€™s pickings were slim. It has a well-known antipathy toward the Pakistan Peoples Party, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, which has at any rate become little more than an ethnic party confined to its stronghold in Sindh.
Ironically, the armyâ€™s bÃªte noire in this election, Nawaz Sharif, was himself the political Frankenstein of Zia-ul-Haq. During his first term as prime minister in 1990â€“93, Sharif was a pliant stooge of the army, but he grew more independent during his second term in the late 1990s, even mustering the audacity to sack an army chief in 1998. Taken by surprise, the army kept its powder dry until October 1999, when Sharif sought to oust General Pervez Musharraf over his role in the Kargil War with India earlier that year. The army mobilized immediately to depose Sharif, who escaped with his life only after agreeing to go into exile in Saudi Arabia, returning after the United States and United Kingdom helped broker the so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance of 2007.
(Army Chief of Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa at a military parade in Islamabad, March 2017. Pic credit: (FAISAL MAHMOOD / REUTERS)
In the 2013 elections, Sharif surprised everyone, including the army, when his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party secured a landslide victory that brought him to power without the help of a coalition. The army was angered by Sharifâ€™s campaign speeches, in which he oppugned nearly every one of the armyâ€™s shibboleths, vowing to accept Afghanistan as a neighbor rather than force it to become a pliant client state, normalize relations with India, and increase civilian control over the army. Although these actions alone would have put a giant target on the back of his woolen vest, he had the audacity to insist on Musharraf standing trial for treason for suspending Pakistanâ€™s constitution after the 1999 coup. There was never any chance that Sharif could enact these policies, but his rhetoric was enough for the army to begin thwarting his ability to govern from his earliest days in office.
While it worked to undermine Sharif, the army also started cultivating the only political option it had left: Khan and his PTI party. Khan has been a politician for decades, but his earlier electoral performances had been disappointing. To make matters worse, he had previously refused to playÂ Pakistanâ€™s political gameÂ of alliance forging and deal making and had taken rhetorical stances against the military, accusing the army of â€œselling our blood for dollars,â€ in an apparent criticism of its relationship with the United States. Since 2013, however, Khan seems to have accepted the reality that he lacked the national appeal to win on his own without the support of the army. He began toÂ praise the military, and the military reciprocated.
The army and the ISI worked relentlessly toÂ improve Khanâ€™s political prospects. The ISI helpedÂ fund his ralliesÂ throughout the country and shape him into a winning candidate. The military persuadedÂ politicians from other partiesÂ to defect to PTI along with their voters, leading many to refer to the party as the â€œPakistan Turncoat Industry.â€ The armyÂ bullied the pressÂ into providing PTI with positive coverage while attacking the PML-N. The security apparatusÂ rounded up, detained, and otherwise harassed PML-N party workers, and the army worked behind the scenes to disqualify PML-N candidates from running. In the most appalling and craven move yet, the army facilitated the rise of three political parties withÂ ties to terrorists, including a political front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, a jihadist group that committed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai;Â the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, which has ties to the Islamic StateÂ (also known as ISIS); and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Labbaik, whose single position is the strict enforcement of the countryâ€™sÂ controversial blasphemy lawÂ (numerous people in Pakistan, many of them religious minorities, have beenÂ murderedÂ over the mere allegation of offending the Prophet). These parties are expected to side with Imran Khan.
IN THE ARMY NOW
Not all of the votes are counted yetâ€”and the other political parties are alreadyÂ filing complaintsÂ with the election commission over outrageous and blatant riggingâ€”but it is already certain that Khan will be the next prime minister. The only remaining uncertainty at this juncture is the precise composition of his coalition and the number of legislators tied to right-wing Islamist and even terrorist parties. Although some Pakistanis are elated with Khanâ€™s election and sincerely believe that he is a face for change, reality will soon settle in.
Ultimately, the election will mean little for Pakistani policies at home or abroad. The army will call the shots on the countryâ€™s relations with Afghanistan, China, India, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. The army will continue to prosecute its proxy wars in Afghanistan and India. It will continue to cultivate terrorists who work on its behalf while weeding out those who have turned on their erstwhile patrons.
Khanâ€™s room for maneuver will be very constrained. He can make noise that is supportive of the armyâ€™s policies or he can generate friction against them. If he becomes a liability, the army will undermine him just as it has the other politicians that it has propped up only to knock down. In Pakistan, it is the army thatÂ ultimately wins the elections. (Courtesy article: Foreign Affairs)