Pakistani soldiers patrol a street with a billboard featuring an image of Imran Khan in Rawalpindi. Photo: Aamir Qures
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd)
This was the second consecutive election in Pakistan held following the completion of full tenure of the incumbent government, but Nawaz Sharif added his name, once again, to the ingloriously long list of prime ministers not to have completed his or her full term in office. The circumstances of decoupling the leader of the ruling party from politics and election, and his subsequent conviction on charges of corruption and incarceration have raised serious doubts about the role of the Pakistan military in the entire episode. But this is not the first time Nawaz Sharif has had a tiff with the army, the first time was when he was deposed in a coup in 1999, and the mastermind of which, the then Army Chief, he tried in vain to put on trial this time.
Given the rather abrasive nature of the mutual relationship, Pakistan Army had an axe to grind against Nawaz. What did him in mainly was his effort to stamp civilian authority over the military, a status that Pakistan army has never countenanced. It is inconceivable that the generals in Pakistan would subordinate themselves to the elected authority and cede their “right” to have their say in the policymaking of the country. Thus the perception that Imran Khan was sponsored by the army and that his victory was underwritten by it may not be totally farfetched. And also because he was the only alternative who has a countrywide support and who was willing to play along with the military to gain what he had aspired for the last 22 years. But there is a counter posed by many wondering why then should he have not been afforded a comfortable majority, instead of a prospect where many feared that the transition of power may be as tumultuous as the elections. That is a very pertinent question which we shall leave till the last to offer our own explanation. There have also been allegations of rigging, a phenomenon that we in Bangladesh are not new to; the fact that the election results were not declared till after almost 72 hours, lends credibility to allegations of fraud and rigging.
There are a few uniques thrown up by the election. This is for the first time in many years in Pakistan that neither of the two major parties has been voted to rule at the centre. Apart from the various incarnations of the Muslim League and the PPP the only other “party” in Pakistan politics has been the army. And a happy outcome for most Pakistanis is that none of the extremist groups has fared well in the election, although the religious-political parties under the umbrella of MMA have garnered 12 seats on their own.
Although Imran’s PTI is confident of forming the government, the PML-N, PPP, Awami National Party and MMA have put their heads together to discuss ways and means to form government in the centre, and the PML and PPP have decided to combine in the national assembly should PTI form the government. What the observers are looking at is what is in store for Pakistan given the prospects of a parliament whose stability is likely to be tenuous infusing more instability in Pakistan politics, and of a government likely to be headed by a western educated gentleman with very deep-rooted conservative proclivity.
However, once the PM-in-waiting dons the mantle of PM, it will not be long before he realises that being the prime minister of a country is not quite the same as leading a team in the field of cricket. While in the latter instance one has to contend with eleven opposition players and a shining red or white ball, in running a country there are far too many imponderables and more than one bouncer hurled from different directions.
Apart from the huge currency crisis looming large for Pakistan, and which many see as the major challenge, Imran Khan has to disprove several tags that has come to be attached to him. For example, he has been known to blow hot and cold on the issues of extremism and the Talibans, often displaying a soft spot for them. Given this disposition, how will he come through with the US government while at the same time dispel a common perception about his country being a sponsor of terrorism, and shed the personal honorific of “Taliban Khan”?
He has offered an olive branch to India, that is a very idealistic approach, but can any Pakistani leader advance Indo-Pak relationship without making Kashmir the focal point of any discussion between the two. Kashmir is the raison d’être of the big Pakistan military machine. Its influence in Pakistan politics and indeed in the formulation of its policies has prompted commentators to describe the relationship obtaining as a situation where it is the Pakistan Army that owns a country and not vice versa.
And that brings us to the most important issue, which is how Imran Khan dispels the belief held by many critics of his being an army “stooge”. The important thing to watch is, given Imran’s charisma would he like to be backseat driven by the army, and if so for how long? By the same token, would the army ever accept the tail wagging the head? The response to those who say that had Imran Khan been sponsored by ISI why did it leave him twenty-one seats short of a majority is that, a coalition in the centre will allow the army to keep a leash on Imran lest he became a Frankenstein.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd) is, Associate Editor, The Daily Star.