#PakistanElections Choosing Between the Devil and the Deep Sea!

  • In its 75-year history, there is seldom an example of a free and fair election in Pakistan. Even in the previous election, there were multiple reported incidents of booth capturing by the army.
  • The arrest and detention of Imran Khan didn’t reduce his popularity or demoralize the cadre as the army had assumed. On the contrary, it just infused his cadres and supporters to fight with much more enthusiasm.
  • With around 220 million people in politically unstable situations, easy availability of weapons and desperate economic situation is a recipe for anarchy. It will be a disaster not only for itself but for the neighbouring countries as well.

2024 is the election year for the whole world. The majority of the democracies enter the pool with India and US being in focus. Nearly 1 billion people are eligible to vote in India. This feat is the first in the history of the world. Pakistan with its around 200 million population also went to polls recently, in the circumstances which are quite different, to say the least.

Background To the 2024 Elections

Pakistan’s tryst with democracy is quite complicated. There has been no elected government that has completed its full term in office. This time with quite difficult circumstances, it is going to the polls. Pakistan is reeling under one distress or the other. It Has barely recovered from the acute food and energy crisis. That Durant line with Afghanistan has been a point of friction, activating its western border. With the embarrassing exit of the US from Afghanistan, Pakistan with its link to terrorist organisations, thought they would be the dominant player in the region. Taliban takeover was assumed to be a victory among the people of the Pakistan establishment. But the reality turned out to be quite different from what they had predicted.

Far from controlling the Taliban, it has outright been hostile to Pakistan. Has always maintained the illegitimacy of the Durant line. Now, with complete control of the country, it has started to take military actions in the border area. If that wasn’t enough, there have also been recent skirmishes with Iran along its border with both countries claiming to take action against the terrorist forces.

In the 75-year history of Pakistan, there is seldom an example of a free and fair election. Even in the previous election, there were multiple reported incidents of booth capturing by the army. In the end, Imran Khan was placed in the PM seat and all arrangements were made to secure his term. “We create our demons”, this has become prophetic truth in the case of the Pakistan army this time. Imran Khan was the blue-eyed boy of the army, whom they assumed to be satisfied with being a de jure prime minister. He was even portrayed as a stout Muslim to get moral legitimacy among their citizens. But eventually, he started exerting his authority and became too big to control. They ousted him and brought back the alliance of two families with Shahbaz Sharif as its prime minister for the remaining term.

Imran Khan vs Pak Army

Imran Khan used every single possible outlet to cry for injustice. With political, rallies, and interviews, he started to do what a new politician previously had done in the history of Pakistan; that is to take on the mighty army. Fed up with his antics army started to crack down on him with many criminal cases including corruption cases. The Toshkhana case is the most prominent and mildly amusing one. When even that did not deter him, he was taken to custody where he still is.

When the Army realized that Imran Khan’s popularity was increasing it brought Nawaz Sharif on the eve of the election, who was in exile in the UK, fearing persecution from the same army. They assumed that Nawaz Sharif still had some substantial vote base and could legitimately claim the PM post. This was the same Nawaz Sharif from whom that victory in the last election was snatched and given to Imran Khan.

The arrest and detention of Imran Khan didn’t reduce his popularity or demoralize the cadre as the army had assumed. On the contrary, it just infused his cadres and supporters to fight with much more enthusiasm. The army even went to the extent of banning his party and its symbol. Still, his party workers used technology to its maximum potential. With applications like TikTok, and social media, they’ve managed his campaign throughout the election. The Imran Khan party candidates fought as independents, but plenty of support from the party. The party even used artificial intelligence to send the message across, as Imran Khan wasn’t able to directly communicate from prison. For example, a post-election video of his victory speech was released with the voice of Imran Khan generated using AI.

When the army saw that they were on the back foot, they even went on to block the internet as a counter to his online campaign. Yet, it seems Imran Khan-backed candidates have done well. The official results haven’t been announced as of this writing, but both the Nawaz Sharif alliance and Imran Khan have claimed victory. Imran Khan’s followers who have lost have started to cry foul that the election was rigged.

Although the political atmosphere still seems uncertain, the advantage is still with the Nawaz Sharif because of the army’s support. It might take more than something like the Arab Spring or Tiananmen Square to turn things around.

Why Does Pak Elections Matter?

So what? Why does it matter? Pakistan isn’t in huge economy. It doesn’t contribute much to the global supply chain. Then why does the Pakistan election be a global concern? Two reasons: population and nuclear arsenal. With around 220 million people in politically unstable situations, easy availability of weapons and desperate economic situation is a recipe for anarchy. It might be a disaster not only for itself but the surrounding countries. This is a proper atmosphere to easily influence the young population with extremist ideology, which can easily lead to a humanitarian crisis.

With the exit of the US from Afghanistan, the West doesn’t seem to have any significant interest in the region. But the only worldwide concern is the nuclear arsenal that Pakistan possesses. With such world-ending weapons and terrorist organizations nearby, it must be appreciated that the Pakistan Army has done a very good job of keeping it outside the reach of terrorists. In such a delicate situation, in pursuit of civil democracy even if the army’s powers drastically, reduce the possible repercussions might lead to nightmare scenarios. For now, the world can only observe closely how the situation may unfold in the situation.

(Shreyas Goutham has an M.Sc. in Psychology and serves in NIMHANS. He writes regularly on politics, society, international affairs and technology. Opinions expressed are the author’s own)

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