The political landscape of Pakistan: Challenges and potential solutions
The ongoing political instability in Pakistan has reached alarming levels, and it seems unlikely that a resolution will emerge anytime soon. The ruling alliance, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and comprising 13 parties, has violated the Constitution by failing to provide critical support to the Elections Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for conducting elections within the specified timeframe in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces.
The caretaker governments in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which were tasked with organizing elections within the constitutionally mandated 90-day period, have failed to fulfill their responsibilities. As a result, they no longer have legal or moral justification to remain in power.
Although the ruling alliance and the powers-that-be intend to hold general elections for the National Assembly and four provincial assemblies in October this year, the key question is whether these elections will contribute to political stability in Pakistan. The unequivocal answer is no, unless the elections are conducted transparently and freely, and include a temporary retirement of Imran Khan from parliamentary politics. Several factors support this stance.
Prior to Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9, the most viable solution to the prevailing political crisis in Pakistan was to hold free, fair, and transparent elections in Punjab and KP, followed by national elections in October as outlined in the Constitution. However, Mr. Khan’s arrest on May 9 and the ensuing violence throughout the country, which has been attributed to him by the ruling alliance and the powers-that-be, have completely transformed the situation. The ruling junta has decided to try Mr. Khan and his party leadership under the Army Act and Official Secrets Act in military courts. While the legality and constitutionality of trying a civilian in a military court are subjects of debate, if Mr. Khan is prosecuted, there is a high probability of his disqualification, along with other top leaders of the party. Nevertheless, it would be challenging, if not impossible, to convict Mr. Khan for the May 9 violence, considering he was in National Accountability Custody (NAB) and incommunicado. Proving his direct involvement in instigating violence would be legally challenging, even in a military court. However, it appears that Mr. Khan’s chances of making a political comeback are slim, given the overwhelming opposition he faces. The fate of his party, PTI, remains uncertain, as some top party leaders have abandoned him while others have chosen to stay.
Regardless of whether Mr. Khan is disqualified, his party is banned, or many other party leaders desert him and the PTI, it cannot be denied that Mr. Khan is the most popular leader in Pakistan. Numerous surveys and opinion polls conducted by national and international organizations on political preferences of Pakistanis consistently indicate that Mr. Khan and the PTI enjoy the support of more than 75 percent of the population. This situation has further complicated and polarized Pakistan’s political landscape.
In the current circumstances, holding elections without the extensive participation of Mr. Khan and the PTI, who have substantial popularity, and with a state apparatus largely against them, would not only be problematic but would also exacerbate chaos and instability. Such elections, conducted in the absence of the PTI, would fail to truly represent the will of the Pakistani people. Moreover, they would likely result in a hung parliament, intensifying the political crisis and conflicts in the country, rather than serving as a solution. Additionally, given the prevailing situation, these elections would lack transparency and fail to gain international recognition for their legitimacy. If the PTI is not allowed to openly participate in the elections, it is probable that the currently ruling 13 parties would form a fragmented government, potentially including a new party led by Jehangir Tareen. However, such a fragmented government would face significant challenges in terms of stability and addressing the pressing issues faced by the country.
Now, let’s consider an alternative scenario where Mr. Khan manages to evade disqualification and conviction and participates in the elections. Even in this case, there would likely be a political crisis due to the strained relationship between him and the military high command. So, what is the best option for the country in this situation? The answer lies in the “minus-Khan” formula, whether or not Mr. Khan himself approves it. By sidelining Mr. Khan, the PTI—a party that enjoys immense popularity and represents the diverse federation of Pakistan in a deeply divided society—could be allowed to participate and potentially win the elections. This approach could help assuage the anger of the powers-that-be towards Mr. Khan.
Furthermore, by shifting the focus to his party, Mr. Khan would have the opportunity to concentrate on strengthening the PTI, while the government could be entrusted to a more moderate and balanced individual such as Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Mr. Qureshi, who has already been named as a candidate for the prime ministerial position by Mr. Khan in case of his incarceration, disqualification, or conviction, possesses vast electoral, political, and administrative experience. His leadership could contribute to establishing a stable governance structure in the country.
Therefore, irrespective of the powers-that-be’s animosity towards Mr. Khan, they should extend their support to Mr. Qureshi so that a stable government can be formed. Alternatively, handing over the government to the currently ruling parties and leaders after managed elections would have little consequence for Pakistan. Even figures like Jehangir Tareen lack the necessary qualifications to address the monumental challenges faced by the country. Moreover, Mr. Qureshi’s appointment would gain acceptance from the international community, as he would assume office following transparent elections.
In conclusion, the political landscape of Pakistan is mired in instability and conflict. To achieve political stability, it is crucial to hold transparent and inclusive elections that reflect the will of the people. The “minus-Khan” formula, sidelining Imran Khan while allowing the PTI to participate, could present a potential solution. By entrusting the government to a capable leader like Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan has a chance to establish a stable governance structure capable of addressing the nation’s pressing issues. It is imperative that all stakeholders, including the powers-that-be, prioritize the well-being of the country and its people above all else in this critical juncture.