by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 12, Rajab, 1445)
Barring any last-minute changes, Pakistanis will go to the polls on February 8. The country’s largest and most popular political party—the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (PTI)—however, has been barred from contesting as a party. Its leader, Imran Khan languishes in jail on totally bogus charges.
The plot to exclude PTI from elections was implemented via the Supreme Court, especially Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa. The late-night verdict delivered on January 13 drew gasps of incredulity from legal experts and independent observers alike. How could a political party be barred from elections?
The supreme court did not ban the party per se but by denying it its traditional party symbol—the cricket bat—that the largely illiterate electorate can easily identify, the party has been banned for all practical purposes.
PTI candidates will now contest elections as independent candidates. Given that there are more than 160 political parties and thousands of independent candidates, the electoral list will be a nightmare to navigate.
Each party and all independent candidates are allotted separate symbols. It will create mindboggling confusion and result in much chaos. There is even speculation that elections might be postponed if the army and the gang of corrupt politicians it is backing fear that PTI candidates might still pull it off.
What was the allegation against PTI that led to the withdrawal of its bat symbol? It was alleged that the party had not held intra-party elections properly. In reality, the party held these elections twice: first in June 2022 and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was duly notified. For several months, the electoral body did not raise any objections. Later, at the instigation of the army that are the real masters of Pakistan, the ECP said the party had not held proper elections.
These were again held on December 1, 2023. Intra-party elections are an internal matter for the party. The Election Commission has no authority to pass judgement on their validity. Yet, at the behest of the army, this body again raised objections asking why candidates to various positions were elected unopposed.
Based on this spurious argument, the ECP withdrew PTI’s long-held symbol. The party appealed to the Peshawar High Court (PHC) which suspended the ECP verdict until January 9 and said a two-member bench would consider the case.
This bench duly met on January 9 and issued its verdict the following day restoring the bat symbol to PTI. The ECP took the matter to the supreme court where an extremely biased chief judge, taking instructions from the army, again withdrew the PTI’s bat symbol. This was a deliberate blow against the PTI to prevent it from participating in the elections.
The ECP is aware that other parties—Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) or the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), for instance—are family-based franchises. The same person has been chairman for decades. They have never held intra-party elections. If they have, these are mere rituals without contest.
They are held in the house of the party leader with a handful of people present. Even the paper work has never been properly completed but that has not aroused any concern among ECP officials.
Another party, the Awami National Party (ANP) had also failed to hold intra-party elections but the Election Commission merely slapped a nominal fine. The party was allocated its symbol. So, why deny the PTI the same right?
The reason is that Imran Khan and his party were ousted from power by the former army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa on orders from the US. The current army chief, Asim Munir is continuing the same policy, with even more viciousness.
Imran Khan’s sins are that he insists on an independent policy for Pakistan. He refuses to take orders from the US. Second, he has vowed to go after the generals, politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen who have for decades plundered state resources or indulged in other corrupt practices. Led by the army, the corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen have ganged up on Imran Khan and are hell-bent on denying him the right to contest the elections. The forthcoming elections will be anything but free.
During his three years in office, Imran Khan had managed the economy fairly well taking the GDP growth rate to over 6%. Exports increased as did foreign remittances because overseas Pakistanis had confidence in him. He managed the Covid epidemic in a way that won international plaudits. And he instituted policies to help the poor and needy.
Even before coming to power, Imran Khan had established three world class cancer hospitals. He donated his own money as well as used his celebrity status to raise funds abroad. He even established a world class university in his hometown of Mianwali. With all these achievements, perhaps because of them, the army was greatly alarmed. He was becoming too popular among the masses.
And his insistence on maintaining an independent foreign policy irked the arrogant Americans. They want stooges, not independent-minded leaders. Imran Khan had to go. The army, that takes its orders from the US, was there to oblige. The generals, too, were alarmed that Imran Khan was showing too much independence, from them and the Americans.
Since Imran Khan’s ouster from power in the army-engineered coup, Pakistan has been gripped by political, social and economic turmoil. Political polarization has risen alarmingly.
This has led to the economy nose-diving. Exports have slumped and foreign exchange remittances from overseas Pakistanis have declined precipitously. The country’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to $7 billion, barely enough to cover one month’s imports.
While the army chief makes tall claims about dollars about to flood the country—one wonders on what authority does he make such pronouncements—the actual picture is very grim. Pakistan has to repay $24 billion in interest on debt this year. It also requires $10 million per day (nearly $4 billion annually) to survive. Where will such huge sums come from?
Since the army is involved in every policy—foreign, political and economic—it has made a mess of everything. The political engineering underway to “elect” (select) a government of its own liking will only make matters worse. The criminals, thieves and rapists the generals have installed in power since April 2022 and their plans to have the same bunch continue to rule will result in total collapse of the country.
The generals do not care. They will flee the country once their term of office ends. Their children have foreign citizenship. Many are already living abroad.
It is truly depressing that a bunch of incompetent greedy generals have usurped all power. The price of their follies has to be paid by ordinary people who have nowhere else to go. Already they are being crushed by astronomically high prices of basic commodities. Families have to make a choice about which children to feed and who would go hungry because there is not enough to feed everyone.
The political path the generals and the criminal politicians doing their bidding have chosen will lead to only one result: the destruction of Pakistan. It is truly shocking and depressing.