By Ajit Kumar Singh*
The efforts of the military to steer the elections against PML-N and PPP, the two most popular political formations in Pakistan, and in favour of a possible coalition led by Imran Khan’s PTI and including a range of radical Islamist formations, has enormously destabilised both the political and extremist landscape across the country. Under the prevailing situation, a dramatic rise in violence is not unexpected. — South Asia Intelligence Review, July 16, 2018
…The (secret) agencies of the state of Pakistan need to realise that they have to confine themselves within the limits of the organic law – the Constitution -and the parameters of the law of the land and must stop interfering in the affairs of other institutions (such as the) judiciary, executive, media, and other departments … (who) have nothing to do with the defence and or the security of Pakistan… — Islamabad High Court Judge Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, July 18, 2018
…ISI is fully involved in the manipulation of judicial proceedings. ISI ensures that the bench is made according to their preferences and cases are marked. Today in the High Court, ISI approached the Chief Justice and instructed him to not release Nawaz Sharif and his daughter till the time of elections… — Islamabad High Court Judge Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, July 21, 2018
As expected, Pakistan’s deep state is about to succeed in getting its person of choice ‘elected’ as the Prime Minister of the country. Though the July 25, 2018, General Election results have thrown up a fractured mandate, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan is almost certain to become the new Prime Minister. In the night of July 28, 2018, PTI leader Naeemul Haq asserted that consultations were on to complete the numbers game, adding, “We have done our homework and he [Imran Khan] will take oath as Prime Minister before August 14.”
Earlier the same evening, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) released the final election results according to which PTI emerged as the largest political party in National Assembly with 116 seats, followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which managed to secure 64 seats; the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), 43 seats; the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), 12 seats; Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), six seats; Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), four seats each; Balochistan National Party (BNP), three seats; Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), two seats; Awami National Party (ANP), Awami Muslim League (AML), Jamhoori Wattan Party (JWP), one seat each; and 13 independents.
Elections for 270 National Assembly seats were held on July 25, 2018. Elections for two seats were countermanded. The National Assembly comprises a total of 342 members, of which 272 are directly elected. The remaining 70 reserved seats – 60 for women and 10 for religious minorities – are to be filled by proportional representation among parties with more than five per cent of the votes.
PML-N was in power when the elections were declared in May 2018, having defeated the ruling PPP in 2013. The MMA is an alliance of a number of Islamist religious parties, while MQM is a Karachi-based formation with its roots principally in the mohajir (refugee) community. PML-Q has its base in Punjab, while the Balochistan Awami Party and Balochistan National Party (BNP) locate their strengths in the Balochistan Province. GDA is an alliance of five Sindh-based political parties.
Elections for four Provincial Assemblies – Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan – were also held on July 25, 2018. In the 297-member Punjab Assembly, PML-N won 129 seats, followed by PTI (123), PML-Q (seven), PPP (six), Pakistan Awami Raaj (PAR, one), and Independents (29). In 130-member Sindh Assembly, PPP has won 76 seats, followed by PTI (23), MQM-P (16), GDA (11), Tehreek-e-Labbaikya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLP, two), MMA (one). In the 99-member Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, PTI won 65 seats, followed by MMA (10), ANP (six), PML-N (five), PPP (four) and Independents (six). In the 51-member Balochistan Assembly, the Balochistan Awami Party won 15 seats; followed by MMA (nine); Balochistan National Party (five); PTI (four); ANP and Balochistan National Party Awamis (BNPA), three each; Hazra Democratic Party (HDP), two; Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMKAP), Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), and PML-N, one each; and Independents (six). While PPP secured a majority in Sindh, PTI is set to form the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Punjab and Balochistan, the leading parties are engaged in garnering support to reach the majority mark.
The July 2018 elections were a bloody affair. There were three prominent election-related terrorist incidents among 19 reported from across Pakistan between the announcement of the date of General Elections by the ECP on May 26, 2018, and Election Day, July 25, 2018. At least 221 people (209 civilians, including three candidates, eight Security Force personnel, and four terrorists) were killed in these incidents and another 313 injured. On election day, at least 31 persons, including five Policemen and two minors, were killed, and 30 were injured in a suicide attack near a school area in the Bhosa Mandi area on the Eastern Bypass of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. The attack targeted the convoy of Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Abdul Razzaq Cheema, who escaped unhurt, while the Station House Officer (SHO) Bhosa Mandi, Muhammad Hameed, succumbed to his injuries.
Elections in Pakistan have been a bloody affair for some time now. During the 2013 Elections (declared on March 22, 2013, and conducted on May 11, 2013), at least 268 persons (260 civilians, seven Security Force, SF, personnel, one militant) were killed and another 45 injured in 80 election-related terror incidents. The worst election-related terrorist incident during this period was recorded on May 6, 2013, when 23 civilians were killed and more than 70 were injured in a blast targeting an election rally of the Fazal faction of Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI-F) in the Sewak village area of Kurram Agency in the then Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Returning to the current process, on July 29, 2018, Pakistan’s main opposition party PML-N called for a judicial investigation into election rigging. Senior PML-N leader Khawaja Asif stated, “We demand constitution of a judicial commission to probe incidents that took place on July 25. We will issue a white paper on the election rigging and other incidents.” Other political parties have also raised similar demands. Pakistan has a history of rigged polls.
Pakistani commentators have sought to emphasise that fears of the infiltration of terrorist elements into mainstream politics, though to be imminent, were uncalled for, as none of the ‘terrorist candidates’ won. However, examination of the voting pattern demonstrates that such ‘terrorist elements’ did succeed in demonstrating significant mass support. The Islamist extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik ya Rasool Allah Pakistan (TLP), which orchestrated mass demonstration against the alleged change in the Khatm-e-Nabuwat [finality of Prophet-hood] clause in Pakistan’s election law, and which recently reiterated its extremist orientation, secured 2,231,697 votes, fifth in the list of political parties in terms of number of votes garnered. Similarly, the Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, the political front of the Hafeez Muhammad Saeed led Milli Muslim League [MML, the political front of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) – Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)] terrorist complex, received 171,587 votes, and was 12th on the list of 85 participating political parties. At least 85 political parties were in the list of parties which garnered votes. While PTI got the maximum of 16,851,240 votes, the Peoples Movement of Pakistan (PMP) secured the least, at 67 votes.
The emergence of Imran Khan as the new leader of Pakistan, is a matter of some concern, given his past record, and Pakistan’s own history as an ‘exporter of terror’. Though most Pakistani political parties, as well as past Prime Ministersmaintained strong ties with religious extremist elements and terrorist groups, Imran has been extraordinarily supportive of extremist elements in the country, and PTI’s provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa included startling elements of support to radical Islamist elements and policies, as highlighted in SAIR on numerous occasions in the past.
Continuing apprehensions are fuelled by Khan’s recent rhetoric. During an election rally in Islamabad on July 7, 2018, he declared, “We are standing with Article 295c and will defend it,” referring to the Blasphemy Law that mandates the death penalty for any “imputation, insinuation or innuendo” against the prophet Muhammad. Several people who were allegedly involved in acts of blasphemy have been killed by religious extremist and terrorist groups across Pakistan.
Moreover, during the current elections, Khan’s PTI joined hands with the Islamabad-based religious extremist leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil. Khalil was placed on the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) by the US Government on September 30, 2014, for his alleged role in creation of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). He later founded and still heads Ansar-ul-Ummah, another terrorist formation on the SDGT list.
Khan is also widely seen as little more than a stooge of the Pakistan Army, and will in all likelihood toe the military line, signalling the continuation of the military-mullah-politician nexus in Pakistan. Any attempt by to deviate from such a position would provoke the same consequences that befell his predecessors when they sought to assert any independence, or to constrain the Army to its constitutional mandate.
There is, of course, some commentary that Khan will attempt to contain Pakistan’s state sponsored terrorist enterprise, and to pursue an agenda of peace with Afghanistan and India, even as he restores a measure of ‘liberal’ constitutional values within Pakistan. Such expectations are reinforced by Khan’s post election statement where he declared:
We will not do any kind of political victimising. We will establish supremacy of the law… whoever violates the law, we will act against them… Afghanistan’s people need peace. We want peace there. If there is peace in Afghanistan, there will be peace in Pakistan. We want to have open borders with Afghanistan one day… We will make every effort to achieve peace there… If India’s leadership is ready, we are ready to improve ties with India. If you step forward one step, we will take two steps forward…
Significantly, Khan has maintained a studied silence on the issue of terrorism, both in his pre-election speeches, and in his post-election postures.
It needs no understanding of individual psychology or of Khan’s personal profile and proclivities to assert that these promises will be betrayed. Through history, leaders have never been able to escape the logic of the dynamic that propelled them to power. Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who harnessed religious polarization and the idea of jihad to engineer India’s Partition, and then sought to transform his fledgling country into one where “religion or caste or creed” would have “nothing to do with the business of the State”, is a glaring example of leaders who become prisoners of the means that bring them to ascendancy. Khan has mortgaged himself to the Army and to religious extremist formations in Pakistan, to pivot himself and his party to power. He will remain their prisoner during his tenure as Prime Minister. ‘Naya Pakistan’ (new Pakistan) will look a lot like the old.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management