Showing true grit and determination, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI) grabbed 16 out of the 20 seats being contested in Punjab province, surmounting major challenges.
The PTI’s July 17 by-election victories were even more impressive because Punjab is the home turf of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz group (PML-N) where it has ruled for more than 30 years.
The entire state machinery, the police and bureaucracy were mobilized to secure PML-N victory.
The PML-N also resorted to their traditional tactics of vote rigging, facilitated by the Election Commission.
These included dead people ‘voting’ in the polls, stuffing ballot-boxes with fake votes, using the police and private security companies to intimidate PTI supporters as well as denying PTI supporters the right to vote in their polling station.
Despite such illegal tactics, PTI supporters remained steadfast and refused to be intimidated or deterred.
The real unknown factor was the army’s conduct.
While repeatedly claiming ‘neutrality’, few people in the country believed them.
After all, there is widespread perception that Imran Khan was ousted from power through a US conspiracy that was implemented by the army.
In a supreme act of insubordination bordering on treason, army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa had publicly declared his opposition to the government’s policy on Russia and Ukraine.
Further, Imran Khan’s rejection of US demands for military bases in Pakistan for attacks against Afghanistan also displeased the army chief.
It is one of the ironies of Pakistani politics that while government-to-government relations with the US may be strained, the Pakistan army’s relations with the US military remain unaffected.
This is primarily because the Pentagon has recruited many generals of the Pakistan army to do its bidding in return for personal favours.
These include dollar payments, purchasing properties in the US or elsewhere in the west, and granting visas to their children to study and settle in the US.
These acts clearly amount to treason but such sordid dealings have gone on for decades and have become the norm.
The politicians’ venal character and massive corruption have enabled the army to usurp immense political space in the country.
For instance, the military not only has a monopoly on matters of defence, it has also intruded into the political, foreign policy and economic arenas.
Further, since the creation of Pakistan, the army has decided who should rule the country.
Whenever it felt that the politicians were not doing a job to their liking or showing too much autonomy in decision-making, the generals would get an itch and take over the reins of power directly.
That they made an even bigger mess of things is another matter.
The army—or the small coterie of generals around the chief—got so used to such meddling that they took it for granted that they could install and dismiss prime ministers at will.
This was working fine until Imran Khan came on the scene.
His independent thinking underpinned by determination caused much angst in the GHQ.
The generals decided to ‘teach him a lesson’.
They thought once they have engineered his ouster from power, Imran Khan will simply disappear and go into oblivion.
The new old rulers—it would be more appropriate to call them army’s puppets and clowns—would manage the affairs and the army would continue to rule from behind the scenes.
Imran Khan refused to disappear. He mobilized the masses to challenge the engineered change.
The people’s response stunned both Imran Khan, and more importantly, the army top brass.
It was this combination of Imran Khan’s determination and the single-minded pursuit of his objectives that inspired the masses.
He had already established his credentials as an honest person through such fine projects as the Shaukat Khanam Cancer Hospital (of which three now exist in the country) and a great university in Mianwali (his hometown) that people rallied to his call.
He stands way above and beyond the criminals that have plundered Pakistan for more than 30 years.
The army top brass prefers criminals at the helm of affairs because they are easy to manipulate.
Imran Khan is a different kettle of fish, hence their displeasure with him.
For once, the men in khaki have met a match for their machinations.
For Pakistan to get out of its present dire predicament, the only option is immediate fair and free elections.
The army-imposed prime minister Shehbaz Sharif has failed miserably.
In any case, he is charged with money-laundering as is his thieving son, Hamza imposed in Punjab.
They should be locked up in prison to serve time for such massive corruption.
Those people that facilitated their assumption of power should also be held to account.
While its supporters and the Pakistani masses celebrate PTI’s victory in Punjab byelections, they should remain focussed on general elections and not allow anyone to undermine their demand for free and fair elections as soon as possible.
A truly legitimate government representing the will of the people is the only option left to save Pakistan.