Pakistan Elections: Army Wins, Democracy Loses

Elections in Pakistan have ended up weakening the state rather than strengthening, because the army frowns upon any attempt at democracy

Seshadri Chari

Soon after the Lahore Declaration was signed in February 1999, promising to provide peaceful and bilaterally beneficial relations between India and Pakistan, Pakistan army decided to upset the apple cart and launched armed infiltration code named ‘Operation Badr’. The aim was to sever the link between Kashmir and Ladakh and cause Indian army to withdraw from the Siachen Glacier, thus forcing India to negotiate a settlement of the broader Kashmir dispute. Another agenda was to create tension in the region and internationalise the Kashmir issue. The Government of India responded with Operation Vijay.

On a day when India observes the 19th Kargil Vijay Diwas, a day (26th July, 1999) when Indian army decisively ended the war by wresting back our territory, Pakistan army has a very different reason to be happy. It has been able to monitor, conduct and hold elections to the General Assembly (Parliament) of Pakistan successfully and keep alive the façade of democracy, something that Pakistan army so intensely requires.

Army was always at the helm of affairs in Pakistan since its formation in 1947 thus never allowing democracy or political institutions to strengthen their roots. Gen. Ayub Khan regime (1958-1971) when the office of President and Prime Minister were combined, Gen. Zia (1977-1985) and Gen. Parvez Musharraf 1999-2002 all of them, dismissed elected governments and usurped power in the name of saving the country from corruption and total collapse. Thus, for Pakistan army, “awam khatre me” (nation in danger) was a permanent slogan. But after 2002 the army realised that it has two sets of problems in usurping power. One was the increasing resentment and opposition among people to the generals donning the political mantle. Another impediment was the adverse image Pakistan was getting among the democratic countries supporting Islamabad for their own strategic ends. The US-led West was comfortable dealing with the military dictatorship, but insisted on the army to change to civilian clothes, a difficult task for the generals. So, the army decided to create political rubber stamps and establish them in Islamabad and deal with the outside world through remote control.

Nawaz Shariff came to power with the promise of improving relations with India. Many political commentators on both sides of the border believe that he sincerely tired with Indian Prime Minister going the extra mile to support his resolve. That is where the army decided to change the script and the PM. The army used Panama Papers as a ploy to dislodge Nawaz Sharif. Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar dismissed the elected Prime Minister for not honouring the constitutional criteria of as per Article 62 and 63, which expects the elected representative to be “sadiq and amen” (truthful and trustworthy). The Islamic “sadiq and ameen” clause was added to Article 62 by military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq as part of his policy of turning the legal system of Pakistan toward Islamisation and radicalisation of the army. The real purpose of this clause was to empower the clergy and throw out political leaders who would disobey the army. In other words, any politician who thinks of extending an olive branch to India would be on the firing line.

The present constitution, which added Article 63, was drafted in 1973 by the then Prime Minister and leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The changes brought about were a federal parliamentary system, democratic freedom for all citizens, an independent judiciary, and the granting of rights to minorities. Whether these principles are practised or not remains a question. Ironically, the Supreme Court used Article 62 against Nawaz Sheriff and not Article 63. With charges against him ‘proved’ and Sharif and his daughter Maryam in jail, the army paved the way for the next rubber stamp.

Army’s discomfort with Nawaz’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was evident as they followed an independent path challenging the army’s interference in political, foreign policy, economic and civilian matters. Ironically, in a country which was formed on the basis of Islam and where the army radicalised its forces and emerged as the king and kingmaker, it was sacrilegious on the part of political parties to dream of a secular parliamentary democracy with army taking its position in the barracks. While Sharif was popular among the Punjabi voters constituting half the population, PPP enjoyed a strong base in Sindh. The PPP strategically downplayed the role of Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s husband known for his corruption, and projected Bilawal Bhutto as the leader. But he was considered too strong and independent and against the army.

So, the army zoomed in on Imran Khan who had no political experience or image as a serious contender as their candidate. It is alleged that many candidates of other parties were arm-twisted to withdraw and persons and clergy with radical credentials were encouraged to contest and win. Incidentally, looking at the poor credibility of such candidates, the army is believed to have forced some of the ‘willing’ PML-N and PPP politicians to join the Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) bandwagon.

With the final seat count announced, former cricketer Imran Khan’s party The Pakistan PTI has posted an impressive tally and has the magic number to form the next government. During the run-up to elections Imran Khan promised a “New Pakistan”, his version of “ache din”. His opponents were actually fighting not his flamboyant appeal clothed in Islamic symbolism, but the strong army which was actually setting goals and continuously shifting them too. The former cricketer with his cricket bat symbol is all set to begin his political innings in Islamabad with the army and the ISI as umpires. The rules of the game are all set and the umpires are fully in command over the political game in Islamabad.

The new dispensation in Islamabad has a huge un-washable laundry list. The economy is in shambles and negotiations with IMF are pending. China’s CPEC has become a thorn in the flesh in north and south alike. Karakoram Highway (KKH) which connects Kashgar area in China’s Xinjiang province with PoK witnessing violent protests from its Shia dominated population not only against CPEC but also the army supported Sunni clergy. The atrocities against the Baluchistan freedom fighters have forced China to rethink on further investments in the Gwadar project. The ‘Jiye Sindh’ movement is gaining steam in and around Karachi.

It is very strange that elections in Pakistan have ended up weakening the state rather than strengthening. That is because the army frowns upon any attempt at democracy. The 1970 election where Awami League posted a landslide victory ended in the breakup of Pakistan. Subsequent elections have proved that Pakistan cannot survive without the support of the army whose only agenda and reason to exist is hate India campaign.

New Delhi has every reason to be alert and closely monitor the developments in Islamabad. Pakistan’s economy is in bad shape and the US and the IMF are not eager to bail out the country. This is pushing the army to turn to China which is more than willing to bail out but for a heavy price. On the northern border, China expects Pakistan army to weed out Uyghur rebels who have become a headache for China. In Baluchistan China was Pakistan army to crush Baluchi freedom fighters and clear the Gwadar area for Beijing to have free and uninterrupted access.

It is doubtful that a reluctant Prime Minister like Imran Khan will ever have an independent view on these matters or he would ever be allowed to act on his own. Democratisation and de-militarisation are what Pakistan’s polity urgently needs. Imran Khan seems to be most ill-suited to perform these tasks. If ever he tries, that will be his last ball of his new innings. Parties and independents supporting Imran’s party are nominees of the army who will pull the rug from under the feet of PTI when ISI signals them to do so. No Prime Minister in Pakistan has ever completed his or her term since 1947.

The cricketer turned politician is at the crease on a pitch chosen by the army which is the bowler, fielder and umpire who will declare him out at a time and date of their choice. Needless to say, much before the batsman’s term ends.