Pakistan has become an arena of international forces ahead of elections. They are still supporting the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his party and want to see it in power again. Big media houses are also siding with them to pave the way for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s win in the election.
International interference has always played a decisive role in Pakistan’s internal affairs, politics and elections. The Pakistani establishment had to accept their diktats in the past. However, experts say, the situation has changed now. As the international establishment wants the PML-N in power again, the Pakistani establishment has decided to resist it. In reaction to the support of international forces to the PML-N, the powers that be have been forced to back the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). Some analysts say it has increased threats to the life of PTI Chairman Imran Khan. The US has always masterminded a regime change in Pakistan. It was true until the last election, when the PML-N was brought to power through rigged elections to advance an international agenda. However, the situation has changed now. Pakistan has strained relations with the US and it will resist its plan to impose a government of its favourite party on the people of Pakistan. The US is opposing Pakistan on every international forum and the Pakistan establishment will not take it lying down. It still wants to remain neutral over the new government and the PTI is not its favourite party, experts say. However, it will resist a US plan to install a government of its choice in Pakistan.
Recent reports in the international media make US designs clear. The Economist Intelligence Unit, in its new Country Report for Pakistan, claimed the PML-N would win the election despite criticism of the state of the economy. “We expect the PML-N to be reelected on the back of a strong showing in the Punjab, the most populous province,” the report says. On the economic front, it said, “A widening current account deficit and persistent budget shortfalls pose the biggest risks to macroeconomic stability in 2018-22,” which would be the term of the next government. It also did not expect the ongoing political upheaval to sort itself out anytime soon and expected the outlook for political stability to remain poor in 2018-22,” citing disputes among the major players and parties that will intensify ahead of the election, and continue well after. The report also predicted that the next prime minister of Pakistan would be Shahbaz Sharif, although “Nawaz Sharif will remain influential in the party. But no real change is expected on the drivers of foreign and security policies. The military will continue to shape much of the country’s foreign and security policies. We expect ties between the civilian government, the military, and the judiciary to stay strained, posing an underlying risk to political stability.”
The New York Times termed the PTI a new king’s party and accused the military of making efforts to thwart the re-election of the PML-N. “Pakistanis see the return of tutelary democracy as the military disempowers politicians who stray from its positions on foreign policy and national security. It supports a new king’s party and punishes the press for providing fair coverage to its perceived opponents. The current season of troubles began in April 2016, after the Panama Papers had named then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s three children as having purchased luxury properties in London using offshore companies. Mr. Sharif’s name did not appear in the papers. Opposition politicians, including Imran Khan, whose party is seen as the military’s favorite, took the case to the Supreme Court. Tensions between the civilian government and the military establishment escalated in October 2016, after Mr. Sharif began asserting himself on foreign policy and national security, which the military considers its domain,” it wrote.
“Officials from the intelligence services have been making threatening calls to journalists objecting to accurate reporting of Mr. Sharif and his family’s corruption trial. Pakistan’s largest media group, which runs several newspapers and news channels, took a defiant posture for months. Intelligence operatives got cable operators to force the network off air in most parts of the country. The network’s ratings and advertising revenue fell, and it was unable to pay its staff for three months. Eventually, the network capitulated and settled on the military’s terms,” it claimed.
According to the Washington Post, “The security apparatus has zeroed in on the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. His supporters suggest the military is going after Sharif because he had criticized its efforts to combat extremist groups. The heavy handedness is to achieve a certain result. They don’t want a strong government and parliament that can legislate the judiciary and military.” The Indian media has also been sympathetic to Nawaz Sharif and inimical to Imran Khan. It unduly highlighted allegations of his former wife Reham Khan.
Some survey reports have also been published by media houses, linked to the PML-N. According to them, the PML-N remains the preferred party among voters in the Punjab, but the PTI has gained ground and narrowed the gap significantly. Gallup Pakistan, Pulse Consultant and Institute for Public Opinion and Research (IPOR)) were said to have conducted the surveys. The Gallup poll said the PML-N was ahead while the Pulse survey put the PTI ahead. Many more surveys could be held to influence voters ahead of the elections. The media has also been divided into two groups. Most media houses are still backing the PML-N. Others are supporting the PTI because of their rivalry towards them. The war will intensify in the coming days.
Experts say some international forces also want to create chaos in Pakistan. The Taliban may target any leader to delay polls and destabilize the country. The Election Commission of Pakistan has informed the caretaker government about the possibility of terror attacks in the country aimed at disrupting the election. All top leaders are a target. The election will remain uncertain until it is held.
[As we go to press, a bomb blast has occurred at a Peshawar rally of the ANP, killing the latter’s candidate and several others, while wounding many more. Ed]