Pakistan polls: Welcome to Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan

The security establishment has, in hopes of a hung Parliament, allowed over 200 candidates of the proscribed organisations to contest elections

Photo by Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo by Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Mariana Baabar

Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi.

Convict No. 3421, three times Prime Minister, Mohammad Nawaz Sharif.

Convict No. 3422, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of former Prime Minister.

After stepping out of the First Class cabin of flight EY 243, donning their Gucci shoes, the Sharifs’ final destination was Adiala jail, where former inmates include LeT’s Zaki-ur- Rehman Lakhavi.

Prison uniforms were handed out while the father and his daughter were brought down to earth with ground realities showing no beds but mere mattresses rolled out on the floor, with the unbearable stink coming from near by toilets.

The General Headquarters (GHQ) in nearby Rawalpindi was fuming. The return of the Sharifs was not on their power point presentation. For Sharif to leave his dying wife, and Maryam to accompany him was so unlike Sharif, who had earlier welcomed a deal which saw him living royally for ten years in a Saudi palace.

With a master stroke of deciding to return, not only has Sharif given his Pakistan Muslim League (N) some badly needed support but it has greatly embarrassed the security establishment who had tamed the Sharif ’s party and brought Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreeq-e-Insaf (PTI) to the fore.

“Nawaz and Mariam will be out of action but Shehbaz Sharif will have some space to fill the vacuum amenable to the Miltablishment. The Jeep Party, Balochistan Awami Party, MQM factions, FATA Independents, etc, will hold the Miltablishment’s casting rights in Parliament to keep PMLN, PPP and PTI in line,” comments political analyst Najam Sethi.

As the security establishment panicked and put Lahore in a lock down before Sharif ’s arrival, the former Prime Minister openly accused ISI’s Maj General Faiz Hameed for the worst possible ‘engineering’ of elections.

General Hameed is the head of the Counter Intelligence wing in the ISI, and the same general who signed an agreement on behalf of Army with the extremist party, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) after it was encouraged by the ISI to lock down Islamabad for a month.

The Sharifs this week will be moving courts again in several appeals, hoping to be given bail before July 25 when countrywide elections are being held.

The courts are not expected to provide relief at a time when the Supreme Court is not shying away from carrying out the agenda of the security establishment with the Sharifs locked into a nutcracker position. That a mockery has been made of the Supreme Court’s judgments are best summed up by respected lawyer Babar Sattar who notes, “You may or may not wish Nawaz Sharif and Maryam to rot in jail, but what the judgment has produced is an embarrassment for all of us associated with the justice system”.

Election 2018 has also turned out to be one of the bloodiest till date with hundreds being taken out in suicide attacks at a time when the Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, had announced that military operations had broken the back of the terrorists.

There is no sense of urgency either from the caretaker government or the security establishment for the candidates to venture out this remaining week, with many opting to cancel large processions and meetings.

A cursory look at some political parties shows that they are willing to tweak their manifesto while focusing on Islam, to share beds with some militant and extremist groups, to ensure a few seats.

Presently, the security establishment has, in hopes of a hung Parliament, allowed over 200 candidates of the proscribed organisations to contest elections, which sees chances of (TLP) entering Parliament.

PPP’s Senator Raza Rabbani sent out a chilling warning.

“150 members of TLP that staged a sit-in at Faizabad are now candidates for the National Assembly seats. Members of Allahu Akbar Tehreek are also contesting. What will the atmosphere of the Parliament be if even 25 of such people are elected,” he questioned.

“In many ways, the real battle in 2018 is between pro-democracy and anti-democracy forces”, notes an editorial in Dawn.

Having started my journalistic career during the hey days of Zia ul Haq’s dark days of military dictatorship, I see myself now in 2018 for the first time exercising ‘self-censorship’, with “Pakistan’s print and electronic media facing challenges including physical assault, threats, illegal detention, arrest and at times murder”.

Censored editorials, columns and television programmes are then redirected to the social media exposing the rot in the system.

Neutral observers like the European Union Election Observation Mission to Pakistan have officially complained that “due to a series of bureaucratic delays”, they will not be able to assess key aspects of the polls. The jury is out on who the future Prime Minister will be, with most hedging bets on Imran Khan, and Shahbaz Sharif to be content with only the Punjab. It will not be too long that even with Imran Khan in the Prime Minister’s House, rumblings will start between the civilian and military leadership, especially in areas related to defence, foreign affairs and finance which the GHQ jealously guards.

The Supreme Court has come under scathing criticism as the Chief Justice, instead of attending to court matters, is focusing on family planning and building dams.

Not too far in the future, the Supreme Court, too, might want to loosen its strings with the army and try to be more assertive.

While Imran Khan may want to bring back ‘looted’ wealth of ‘corrupt’ politicians, the Pakistan Business Council notes, “An IMF programme is unavoidable, there should be full transparency on costs, benefits and financial flows of CEPEC”.

PML(N)’s Senator Mushahid Hussain told Army Chief General Bajwa, “Learn from past mistakes. Don’t repeat them, make new ones”.

The more things change…welcome to the Naya Pakistan.

(The writer is a leading Pakistani journalist based in Rawalpindi)

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Published: 20 Jul 2018, 8:30 AM