Pakistan is heading for another stint of turmoil and instability though formation of coalition government is imminent because powerful army is behind this political move and it wants to keep at bay the independents backed by Tehreek-e-Insaf party (92), (PTI) headed former prime minister, Imran Khan who is languishing in jail due to total imprisonment of 24 years so far in three cases.
Nawaz Sharif's party Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) has emerged as single largest party with 75 seats. This is followed by Pakistan Peoples’ Party (54) of Bilawal Bhutto and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) won 17 seats. Three coalition partners (146) are having a required majority mark of 133 as total contested seats are 265.
Due to lack of recognition, Khan supported independents cannot stake the claim to form government hence they have decided to sit in opposition. But efforts are on foot by Nawaz and Bhutto’s parties to woo these independents though both parties and MQM-P have got a simple majority to form a coalition government which seems to be a certainty as they were partners in previous government also. As per announcement, PML-N, PPP and MQM-P have agreed to form a coalition government to ‘save the country’ from impending instability.
Army's favourite, Nawaz, may make to the top
Analysts are convinced that the army will emerge as final adjudicator in deciding the name of PM candidate and it has already scripted PML-N chief Nawaz who was brought from London under a well-planned strategy. He was acquitted in all corruption cases and led the entire election campaign besides giving even victory speech though it was premature. On the other hand, Bilawal Bhutto is also lobbying to become PM and contacting the independents. Sharif’s younger brother, Shebaz headed the government after the defeat of Khan on the floor of the parliament in April 10,2022 and he is fully standing with his brother. Contrary to it, Bilawal is trying to negotiate for the post of PM though chances are dim but there may be agreement on sharing the top slot on rotation basis which may not be acceptable to the army.
Challenges ahead for new government
Foreign policy experts feel that it will be a bed of thrones for Nawaz Sharif who will face hordes of challenges to save his country and primary task pertains to handling the current economic crisis which may collapse in future and there is every chance of going the Sri Lankan way. IMF negotiations need to be taken to a logical end otherwise the threat of bankruptcy still looms large.
Second, Pakistan has passed through political turmoil for several years and people expect to witnessed the stability which may become reality to some extent with the full support of army generals who have “selected “ Nawaz to lead the country and ensured the elimination of Khan from the electoral process as he was posing danger to the supremacy of army.
Third, it will be an uphill task to control the acts of terror emanating from Afghanistan which supports outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP). The acts of terrorism continue unabated which is evident from the recent killings of ten army personnel which was undertaken by 30 terrorists from multiple directions thereby leaving the army echelon in shock. A military check post was stormed last year in Darban which left twenty dead which was claimed by Tehreek-i-Jihad, an alibi used by the TTP. Now people will expect the new government to check growing terror attacks which have reportedly resulted in more than 1,500 casualties in 2023.
Fourth, three out of four provinces will be governed by opposite parties hence it will be an uphill task for prime minister to evolve the synergy and establish cordial relations with the heads of respective provincial government.
Revolt by Imran Khan against army is historical development
One of the startling takeaways from the most incredible general elections in Pakistan pertains to an open revolt by former prime minister, Imran Khan against the authoritarian legacy of army which has been backed by upsurge of his supporters who have won more seats as independents than military sponsored Nawaz Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto. One can imagine the popularity graph of Imran from the fact that while being in jail, the independents backed by his party, Tehreek-e-Insaf party, (PTI) have won a majority despite the repressive tactics which must sound alarming well for the army. Experts say that it could be the beginning of the new trend in Pakistan’s history though there is nothing certain about its continuity in future elections.
The mindset of people in Pakistan is attuned to supremacy of military which has got tradition and history of being ruled indirectly by proxy for decades and directly for 33 years ranging from 1958-1971,1977-1988 and 1999 to 2008).The people are adapted to live with military as three coups and non-competition of full term by any PM in 76 year history is Pakistan indicates complete dominance of army which has reduced democracy to a farce.
Strained relations with Taliban
It may be recalled that Pakistan had been successful in isolating India during Doha dialogue which had inked Peace deal with united states in 2020 prior to withdrawal of the troops from Afghnistan.US had utilized Pakistan which was considered very close to Taliban and former ISI chief had landed in Kabul after deal and celebrated the occasion as it had been successful in isolating India.
But it proved to be short lived as ties between Taliban and Pakistan started taking downward trend and now latter has accused the former of harboring terror groups. Even the United Nation has validated Pakistan’s claim of presence of Al Qaeda training camps on Afghan soil and active felicitation of TTP by Taliban. China had issued the statement and resented the terror attacks and impressed upon the Taliban to combat such activities with iron hand. Coalition government will have to improve relations with the Taliban which has blasted Pakistan’s refugees’ policy. Pakistan has forcibly expelled 3,75,000 Afghans and deported 20,000 of them which had infuriated the Taliban regime which has blasted its neighbor and ties are touching new low.
US, EU demand investigation into poll rigging allegations
Amidst the allegations of “rigging” executed by the election commission of Pakistan with the full patronage of the army, worldwide opinion is hazy about the credibility of polls but the satisfying feature relates to continuation of democracy though in fragile form which is not a great new for Chinese rulers in Beijing. The United States and European Union have demanded an investigation into the allegations of irregularities, fraud and interference besides the countrywide arrests of the political leaders and activists.
It was also an illusion that democracy was restored for the rest of the period as the military had hundred percent dominance in domestic and international affairs as ‘selected prime ministers’ always acted as symbolic public figures. Now the cat is out of the bag and the outcome of the polls in Pakistan is in consonance with the expectations and estimation of the entire world besides the people of this beleaguered country.
Election Commission acted like pawn
Analysts opine that the election commission of Pakistan acted like a stooge of the ruling dispensation whereas supreme court proved to be Savior of democracy which forced the government to hold general elections in the country. By any yardstick international poll observers, elections may lack credibility but it has preserved democracy though in diluted form which may not be to the liking of the Chinese dictatorship.
Analysts feel that democracy, though not in true sense, has survived in Pakistan which is a good omen for India as peace in the neighborhood always creates a positive atmosphere.
(Writer is political analyst and senior journalist based in Shimla.)