By Harsha Kakar
The recently concluded general elections in Pakistan almost went according to the script as determined by the deep state. The two reigning political parties which have shared power over decades were pushed into the sidelines and an almost obscure playboy politician, with no experience in governance, has been brought to power. Denying level playing fields to political parties other than Imran Khan’s PTI, curbing the press, pressurising powerful opposition politicians to either join the PTI or stand as independent candidates dominated the proceedings. International observers from the European Union also stated that there was no level playing field in the weeks preceding the elections.
The return of Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam from London to face the jail terms, just prior to the final election dates, almost put a spoke in the plans of the deep state. They had expected them to remain abroad like the former general and President, Pervez Musharraf. Their return could have led to immense emotional support and severely impacted its well thought through plan. Therefore, it resorted to two simultaneous actions. First, Nawaz was moved straight to jail, preventing him from meeting even his mother and supporters and second, rigging was now essential for ensuring the army got the government it desired at the centre.
Handling Nawaz was the easier of the two, as he was given no choice. For formal rigging, the Election Commission had to be manipulated. It was done, and the Pakistan army was granted magisterial powers and was directly involved with the complete election process from the movement of election stores to its presence, both inside and outside polling booths. Videos presently doing rounds on Pakistan’s social media indicate almost open rigging, marking votes cast to other parties being counted on the name of PTI, army personnel in uniform being involved in counting of votes as well as in celebrating the victory of Imran Khan.
Equally important was to ensure a favourable government in Punjab, the largest and richest province, covering almost half the country and providing the largest seats to the senate.
Imran Khan had almost no hold in the state. Punjab was Nawaz’s stronghold. His vote banks had to be dented and split, while other actions continued unabated. The stumbling block could have come in the form of international observers, which could damage the reputation of the state. Their numbers were kept low and their movement was restricted. Juggling was possible in the counting process.
The participation of a multitude of religious and extremist groups, including those considered as global terrorists, into the poll process, supported and created by the deep state was intentional and part of the deep state’s strategy. The groups included Hafiz Saeed, a known global terrorist, led Milli Muslim League, standing on the platform of the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, the political wing of the TTLY, which had launched an agitation at the behest of the army in Islamabad in November last year and the Ludhianvi led Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jammat, the ban on whom was lifted only days before the election. Amongst the religious groups was the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a group of five religious parties.
These groups fielded a total of 1500 candidates for both the national assembly and provincial assembly seats, with the MMA alone fielding 460 candidates. Historically, Imran Khan only had a grip on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with almost no presence in other provinces. Thus, these parties were pushed into the electoral process, mainly in the regions where he lacked a political base, for multiple reasons.
While these parties did manage to eat into the vote bank, they ultimately drew a blank in the elections, except the MMA which did win a handful of seats. For once, despite all their appeal and backing of the army, the nation rejected them en-masse. This was a major setback to the deep state.
Does this action send a message that Pakistan as a nation rejects terrorist groups or the population has a growing resentment against the diktats of the deep state?
The common Pakistani may have faced enough bloodshed to lose interest in the beliefs of terrorist groups, but the desire to regain Kashmir remains deep within him. Further, the belief that terrorist groups may not solve the problems of the nation led to their complete rejection.
More importantly, the mass rejection projects local anger against the dominant power of the army, which has unilaterally taken away most civil rights of the populace and treated them as second-class citizens in their own country. Therefore, it rejected terrorist groups backed by the army. Imran Khan succeeded because he was seen to be clean and a change from other prominent parties which have dominated the political landscape for decades. Further, the manipulated press conveyed Imran Khan to be the right man for the nation, which did influence votes, alongside known rigging. The army dominated press projected corruption angles of other political parties versus the clean image of Imran.
In the coming days, the army would re-evaluate the reasons for the public’s rejection of its sponsored terrorist groups converted to political parties and possibly bring about changes to ensure that it does not happen in future elections.
After all, these are early days and once Imran gets the feel of power, he too may seek to curtail the authority of the army and may need to be elbowed out.
The rejection of ‘terrorist groups turned political parties’ by the local populace has compelled Imran Khan to seek support of other individuals or parties to form the government. He is, however, assured of the backing of the deep state and its supported terrorist and religious groups and hence for the present, he would neither be criticised nor agitations be launched against his government. For the army, while it did push Imran Khan through as the next PM, the rejection of its supported terrorist and religious groups was a major setback and an indicator of the national anger.