Pakistan elections and the relations with its civil and military bodies

Today is the penultimate day for Pakistan’s democracy as it is holding the general elections to determine who will form the country’s next government. The 2013 election saw the first ever successful transfer of power from one democratically elected civilian government to another. However, not without scrutiny as the former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s party Pakistani Tareeki Insaaf (PTI) have accused the then elected government of Pakistan Muslim League/Nawaz (PMLN) of fixing votes during the election which hampered the serious candidacy of PTI. Like the previous election, Pakistan faces a controversial situation as the former elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif was removed due to the corruption charges which were revealed after the Panama paper leaks. Nawaz Sharif currently imprisoned due to corruption charges is ineligible to run in the elections, however, his brother Shahbaz Sharif is running for the office instead. On top of that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari the son of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto is also running for the office with his party Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

Pakistani politics since its inception has had military junta rule often at the expense of democratically elected ones. This brought about the most embarrassing moment for Pakistan with the independence of Bangladesh formerly East Pakistan due to the mishaps of the military junta, which was replaced by the controversial Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and was again overthrown by another military junta. In this current election as Pakistan’s military and its intelligence services are the de facto power brokers often play a role in the election or appointment of the leadership in the country. For instance, in the 2013 election, the PTI opposed the then elected government as it was accusing the elected party PMLN of stealing votes. Also, recently after the Panama paper leaks, the PMLN has been opposed by the Pakistani military intelligence. As a result, clashes have emerged among PMLN supporters and the military intelligence branch of the state. However, the emergent politician Imran Khan and his party PTI is growing its influence among the younger generation of the country as well as building closer ties with the more conservative circles in Pakistani society. It was reported that the military intelligence has supported PTI to some extent, however, due to its over-reliance on the northern and western parts of Pakistan it lacks the numbers to claim a majority in the parliament.
The majority of Pakistani population resides in the Punjab region which is the place where Shahbaz Sharif was the Chief Minister of and had a positive reputation in the past term. He is the favourite to win in this region as he has a sizeable support and has proven his worth in the past. Also, in Pakistan’s second largest province Sindh is the main hub of the PPP party which is being spearheaded by the youthful Bhutto. Bhutto has had various scrutiny made against him by his critiques who have doubted his ability to lead Pakistan out of its dark days of growing internal tensions and the rise of militancy within its borders. Bhutto by most of his critiques is described and often compared with his late grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as incapable of connecting with the majority of Pakistan. The ideal and unradical option left for Pakistan is Shahbaz Sharif who is mature and has served his in the government and have proven his worth. However, due to this brother and niece’s corruption charges his party’s reputation has diminished significantly. This also reduces his chances of winning the election.
The popularity of Imran Khan is already reaching to a point of unparalleled as he has won the World Cup for his country as the captain in 1992 and has enormous popularity [It is also reported that Imran Khan is the favourite candidate of the military]. However, his reliance on social conservatives and lack of activities in the majority regions of Punjab and Sindh restricts his chances. This election is fundamental for the stability of Pakistan and the greater South Asian region. Pakistan’s military and intelligence often played a key role in destabilising Afghanistan when the American invasion took place. Also, Pakistan’s military is accused of promoting hardline militancy in the region by neighbouring countries including India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. If a good outcome results from this election Pakistan must look forward to amend its decaying relations with its large neighbours Afghanistan and India, eventually with Bangladesh as well. The results of today’s penultimate election will define Pakistan’s foreign policy as historically it has been closely allied with the USA until recently when the relations have started to rattle and as a result, have started to cooperate closely with China and for the first time in its history with Russia. The elections should inspire Pakistan to build a stronger connection of understanding with its neighbours which it currently is suffering.
This article previously appeared on Qutnyti
Written by Ahmed Ashfaque Shahbaz; BA in International Business and International Relations (Dual Honours at Keele University, 2018) with Interests in International affairs, history and economics. Editor and founder of Qutnyti. 

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