Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Pakistan announces polls: Will the military still exert p...

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Pakistan announces polls: Will the military still exert power?

In this episode of Worldview, we discuss Pakistan elections announced for February and if India’s neighbour is ready for a new chapter in democracy

This week, after months of some dire predictions about whether they would be held at all, Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi announced that general elections would be held in the country on February 8

The announcement came after the Supreme Court, that has been hearing petitions against the delay — the previous Shahbaz Sharif government handed over to a caretaker government on August 9, and elections were due to be held with 90 days of that—pushed the Election Commission on a date 

The Pakistan EC said the delay was caused by the need for delimitation of constituencies in line with Pakistan’s new census 

The other big development in the past few weeks, was the return of former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif- for the first time since he left the country in a sort of self-imposed exile in London, after he was dismissed as PM in 2017 and disqualified from standing for office over the “Panama Papers” case involving undeclared assets. 

On his return- an emotional meeting with his daughter Maryam Sharif, groomed as his successor, and a massive public rally, where he said amongst other things, that Pakistan needs to have good ties with India. 

Nawaz Sharif is still disqualified, and it is unclear whether he will be able to stand in upcoming elections- as he plans to appeal for a review of his sentencing, or will remain the power behind the throne if his part the PML-N wins at the centre or state level 

The other big party in the outgoing government’s ruling coalition, the PPP chief former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari- who has been summoned in a different corruption case on December 18, announced this week that he would not allow Nawaz Sharif to be PM, and claimed the PPP would form the government in February. 

Finally, there’s the third party in Pakistani politics, the PTI- who’s leader former Prime Minister Imran Khan still remains in jail- while he has received bail in a number of cases, he remains in high security prison over the Cypher saga- which we spoke about in WorldView Ep 118. He now sends messages through his family to his supporters, but there seems little chance at present that he will be allowed to campaign during elections, and is disqualified from standing for election as well. 

When asked about the state of Pakistan’s polity, its unabashedly pro-Army Caretaker PM Anwar Ul Kakar had this to say, speaking this week at a premier management school in Pakistan 

  1. For about half of the last six decades- 33 years, Pakistan has been under the direct rule of the military- from 1958-1971, 1977-1988 and 1999-2008 
  2. For the rest, governments have been dismissed at will by the military, and one former PM ZA Bhutto was even hanged by military dictator General Zia 
  3. No Pakistani government has completed a full 5 year term since the creation of Pakistan 75 years ago 
  4. In the past 15 years, since the last Military ruler, the Army has played a more behind the scenes role- pulling the rug from under the feet of Asif Ali Zardari,Nawaz Sharif, and Imran Khan by turn. This is not unlike the role it played between 1988 and 1999, turfing out Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif by turn, until Gen Musharraf took over. 
  5. This will however be the first election where as of now- the leaders of all three parties: 3 time PM Sharif, Benazir Bhutto’s husband and former President Zardari and former PM Imran Khan will not be contesting, and will play the role of the power behind the throne in their parties. 
  6. Meanwhile the military has grown in strength, power, influence and what is called Milibus- Military Business without the accountability cases that political leaders face. 

Earlier I spoke to Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc, a book about the Pakistani military that has a revised edition- 

We have spoken earlier on how events in Pakistan affect Indian foreign policy- now combined with what we can only call Electionageddon year in South Asia, these may have a greater impact: 

  1.   Maldives has changed hands in elections- we covered that in WorldView Ep 126 
  2.  Bangladesh- is expected to go to vote in January 24 
  3.  Bhutan- where the government has handed over to a caretaker government, is also due for elections by February
  4.  Pakistan- has now set a date for February 8 
  5. India itself is expected to hold elections in March and April with a new government by the end of May 2024
  6.   Sri Lanka is due for Presidential elections by September 2024- government and IMF willing. 

WV Take: In a turmoil-ridden subcontinent, other than Afghanistan, Pakistan has had the most troubled relationship with democracy. As it heads to an election period where none of it most popular leaders are eligible to stand, will it vote for more of the same, or seek out a new leadership, or atleast a new generation of the old leadership? Given that each of the present leaders have paid the political price for challenging the Army, it does seem however that the Pakistani Military’s role- in governance if not in government itself is inevitable for the foreseeable future. 

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