Former cricketer Imran Khan has said all the right things a Pakistani prime minister-elect should have said. He spoke of establishing good relations with India and resolving the Kashmir issue. However, in the real world he would have to live in, such a goal would be outside his area of responsibility.
There are democracies and there are democracies. Even those with a great conceit, such as the US, have deep flaws, as is apparent with the Trump presidency. Democracy works in different ways in various countries. And we in India know well that having people elect their leaders is just the most basic attribute of what a democracy should be.
Pakistani democracy, therefore, must be treated as sui generis and its outcome must be respected because it reflects the will of the people, at least up to a point. Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is not like Narendra Modi’s recent host Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, who won 99% of the votes. Nor is he like Saddam Hussein who secured 100% of the votes in 2002, or even Hosni Mubarak who secured 88.6 % of the votes in 2005.
The hallmark really is whether the election leaves a significant Opposition around, never mind the percentage of the vote they command. That is why it is still possible to count Russia, Turkey or Iran in the list of democracies.
The election was systematically tilted against the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), by the shadowy Deep State (read: the Pakistan Army). With its leader and heir apparent in jail on charges of corruption, candidates and voters of the party came under direct pressure to abandon them.
Elections in India in the 1980s saw ballots being rigged, especially in rural areas where foreign election observers could not reach. Dalit villages would be warned to stay away from polling booths on election day. Most millennials wouldn’t know what the phrase ‘booth capturing’ stood for.
That is the reason why elections in India today are conducted under extreme security. The country mobilises its paramilitary, deploys them in great density and conducts polling in phases. The 2014 General Election in India took place in nine phases.
Now, of course, the mighty Pakistan Army was providing election security. But in a single phase, it could simply have not done justice in a country that is, at least, as sprawling and violent as India. The Pakistani jawan may not have taken sides, but the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) most certainly was ‘interested’ in ensuring the defeat of the PML(N). This, especially since Nawaz boldly made his final challenge by breaking the rule of the Pakistani elites and offering himself for arrest instead of accepting exile.
Right now we do not know the contours of the outcome. It would be useful to know how many of the 500-odd candidates fronting for jihadist outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba fared. Equally, it would be interesting to see the final outcome in the provincial assemblies. The message is clear the PML(N) has paid for its apostasy of challenging the army.
So, the simplest way to deal with the Pakistan elections is to accept the outcome as being fair, even when we know that they were not entirely so. The PML(N) had failed to cut much ice with the electorate in the last five years. Sharif did manage to stabilise the currency, rebuild foreign exchange reserves and cut inflation, but he could not meet expectations of the people for jobs, cheaper housing and food, electricity and so on.
All through, he had to cope with the Pakistan Army that was never happy with his efforts to mend fences with India. There were successive rounds of demonstrations in 2014 and 2016, paralysing the government. In 2017, he was finally removed by the Supreme Court without the benefit of any trial.
Now, Imran Khan must wear that crown of thorns at a time when the country’s import bill is zooming and the economy has a huge debt overhang that may need an IMF bailout. If history is anything to go by, Imran’s future is not too good.
No matter how the Pakistan Army games it, it has never gotten the puppet PM of its desires. Dictator Zia-ul-Haq’s chosen Prime Minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, was appointed in 1985 and dismissed in 1988, Nawaz Sharif, selected by the army in 1990 to replace Benazir Bhutto, fell afoul of the army in 1993, and then again in 1999. Another army product, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, was put up as PM by the dictator Pervez Musharraf in 2002 and forced to resign two years later.