As the tenure of the present government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is coming towards its end and the electioneering for the next national elections is gearing up, strange but worth-probing statements are being made by the leading parties leaders, Nawaz Sharif of PML-N and Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). In the latest political move the PML-N founder and three-time prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has started arguing that in the next elections the party was facing not real political opposition but certain alien forces, a strong allusion towards the country’s quite powerful security establishment. On the other hand Imran Khan after desisting from making such statements at last came up with one which has startled everyone. The crux of the statement is that the PML-N and Sharif won the May 2013 national elections with the help of the then military leadership. Khan has also unequivocally dismissed the allegations by the PML-N leadership that he has been a blue-eyed boy of the security establishment and the country’s judiciary when, in fact, Sharif has always been getting meted out extremely favourable treatment by both the military and the judiciary.
Now the pertinent question here to ask is that what made Sharif and Khan introduce such statements, which involve key, apparently non-political, state institutions into the electoral discourse. Insofar as Sharif and his PML-N are concerned, they are profoundly perturbed by the removal of the former as prime minister by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) on possession of a work permit (Iqama) of an Arab country while being the prime minister of Pakistan and sending of corruption cases to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for investigation. The SCP has not only explained that Sharif is disqualified for life but he is also about to be given punishment on the recommendation of NAB in the Panama Corruption case specifically of money laundering and possession of illegal assets in foreign countries.
On its part, the PML-N government’s performance at the centre and the Punjab province has not been satisfactory, let alone impressive. For instance, the party government could not even fulfill one of its main electoral promises of ending power outages (load-shedding) within two years, despite the passage of five years, whereas the health of the country’s economy leaves a lot to be desired. In this situation the PML-N and the Sharif family, the moving spirit behind the party, do not have any strong political case or base to build its electoral campaign on. Each political party needs some issues to focus on during electioneering. In particular, the incumbent political party should have the strongest case in the shape of its performance and governance. But the PML-N has pushed itself into a tight corner; the party does not think it has any realistic prospects to win and, therefore, there is no other way than to come up with strange arguments that “alien” and unseen forces are out there to prevent the party from winning the next elections. The PML-N assuming such an approach to electioneering is understandable, but whether it would find currency with the electorate is rather unlikely.
On the other hand, the recent revelations by PTI head Imran Khan that the then army command helped Sharif win 2013 national elections is strange in the sense that never before in the last five years has he made such allegations. This has been despite the fact that Khan has been consistently charging that the PML-N rigged the last general elections and this was substantiated by the disqualification of several PML-N winning candidates by the election tribunal and courts for unverifiable votes. Here it is quite interesting to note that, obviously, when it is charged that the PML-N rigged the last elections, it means that some state institution, whether the then members of ECP or the military establishment, helped him as the party did not have its government either at the centre or the Punjab province, having largest number of National Assembly constituencies. So why did Khan earlier not blame the then military establishment of helping Sharif win the last elections is intriguing. He must have calculated that doing so would invite the wrath of the security establishment, which would be futile, as the party had no other choice but to unwillingly accept the election result. However, by starting an indefinite sit-in (Dharna) against election fraud only months after the PML-N had formed government, which later lasted for 126 days, PTI chairman send a strong message across to the powers-that-be that any attempt to favour parties would not be acceptable.
Now the important question is that why just months before the make-or-break election for the PTI, has Khan made the revelations that the then army leadership helped Sharif win elections in 2013? For instance, during a prime time TV program of a well-known journalist, Khan said, “The 2013 polls are called RO elections because the Pakistan Army stopped candidates from going into the polling stations.” The answer is not simple but at the same time is not that complex to answer. It seems that Khan has sensed that Sharif and company’s argument and narrative that the former prime minister was disqualified and cases against him, family members and party leaders are being actively probed and efficiently taken up by the courts and by the powers-that-be to pave the way for PTI win in the next elections, was gaining acceptability within the people. Consequently, international forces and democratic groups within Pakistan may start believing that PTI was being favoured. So Khan has given the statement to dispel the impression that the PTI and he were getting favourable treatment from the establishment. Khan’s assessment of the situation seems to be based on the premise that in politics perception is stronger than reality. Therefore, Khan chose to make the revelations on a media channel which has been quite antagonistic to him and his party. Moreover, the TV channel and the group have also gone an extra mile in disseminating anti-establishment propaganda. Thus, Khan’s revelations on such a media channel is quite meaningful and seem to be aimed at deliberately airing the message.
It is also apparent the Mr. Khan feels and thinks that he and his PTI are riding a wave of popularity after playing an instrumental role in ending the nearly four-decades long political career of Nawaz Sharif, creating political awareness among the masses regarding corruption and loot of national resources by traditional politicians like Sharif and Zardari. They also believes his party has established a model of good governance in the PTI-ruled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and above all, he will be the natural choice of people to vote for, who are frustrated with all the other political parties. Now it remains to be seen whether statements like army’s role in the last national elections by Khan would help him or not in the upcoming elections.