Pakistan, Imran Khan & How to Rig a Democracy…

Imran Khan

If you want a demonstration of how democracies can degenerate into deplorable farce, then Pakistan is usually a good example.

For one thing, elections can be a dangerous affair in Pakistan.
For example, when Benazir Bhutto ended her exile and returned to the country in 2007 to campaign, bombs went off and people died (including eventually she herself).
Forward to 2024 and it says something when a country holds elections in an environment of intimidation and suppression, and where the most popular political leader is not only barred from taking part but has been put in jail.

Then again, can anyone expect better of a country where no elected leader in its history has been able to see out a full term without being either removed, arrested or assassinated?
I’ve been covering the unfolding Imran Khan saga here periodically: beginning with his removal from office some two years ago, to his accusations against both the Pakistani political elites and their Washington foreign affairs allies, and inevitably to the assassination attempt against him last year.
Now Khan – who, according to some estimates in the passed year, has had the support of around 80% of the population – has been sentenced to some 20 years in prison.
Among the hotchpotch of seemingly dubious charges against him, this is principally because he revealed information from a diplomatic document deemed by the court to be a state secret – he did this while addressing a rally.
What’s obvious to most, however, is that Khan was right when he said that everything that’s been happening has been to stop him from running for office again. This would include both the failed assassination bid (supposedly carried out by a lone-wolf religious nut) and this more recent sentencing and imprisonment.
We’ve seen the sheer scale of the protests that erupted when Khan was removed from office, and the sheer scale of the crowds that have marched in his name or were attending his rallies.
It leaves no doubt that Khan would win any fair election in an absolute landslide.
Instead, an election process has now unfolded in Pakistan without the most popular candidate able to take part, and with widespread intimidation of his supporters and suspicions of vote tampering.
Khan allies have been suppressed or arrested for months. Violence has been rampant. Candidates from Khan’s PTI party have been barred from running under the PTI banner and have had to run instead as independents.
And the national media has apparently had a blackout of any PTI coverage. This being reportedly under the influence of the military.

The political elites and the state institutions are therefore running a pantomime of an election to try to engineer their preferred outcome – and the people in the street are wholly aware of this.

Reports from recent days have included ballot boxes being confiscated and state violence against some voters.
Internet blackouts and disrupted phone network coverage were also widespread on election day, intended to prevent people from communicating, mobilising or having access to relevant information.
And yet, for all of that, Khan’s PTI candidates – despite having to run as independents – appeared to be ahead, projected to win the most seats.
The irony is that elections were what Khan wanted in the first place, back when he was being ousted from office: he called for a snap election to reaffirm his support from the people.
Imran Khan addressing supporters in Islamabad on what he claimed was a 'foreign conspiracy'.
Which he would’ve won easily: which is presumably why the election was not allowed.
There have been constant calls for an election since then: but everything was seemingly done to put off the voting until Khan was no longer in a position to either run as a candidate or rally his supporters in the streets.
With Khan now behind bars, an election was finally given the green light.
Yet, even now, so much had apparently been done to try to control the outcome. And yet the results are *still* inconclusive and contested, despite all the efforts to suppress the popular will.
The question now is whether, once all the votes have been fully counted, will Khan’s allies be allowed to form a government? Or will something be done to impede this?
It is looking, predictably, like the establishment politicians – principally the same two political dynasties that were at the forefront of Khan’s ousting in the first place – are going to form a coalition government.
There is the strong possibility that the likely next PM is to be Nawaz Sharif of the Muslim League: a member of the political elite and former PM who had already previously been removed from office for corruption and fled to England.
Sharif is what a corrupted system deserves: a corrupt system produces crooked leaders and corrupt outcomes.
The formerly London-based Sharif (famously a fixture in the Panama Papers) is claiming victory, despite the apparent inconclusiveness of the numbers.
This was presumably the desired outcome since over two years ago when the entire affair against Khan’s government was initiated.

What’s noteworthy is the radio silence from Pakistan’s Western partners such as the UK, and especially the US, who seem to have no objection to a democratically elected leader being removed from office and later imprisoned just in time for the country’s new elections.

Since this whole saga has been going on, Western governments have seemingly had little to say.
There’s been very little international media coverage either.
This whole saga of course has significant echoes in Pakistan’s history and the fate of the county’s previous most popular leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: who was executed by the military after being jailed on dubious charges in 1979.
I’ve focused on this comparison here before: because Bhutto, like Khan, was overthrown by the military only after he began to be perceived as ‘anti American’.
In fact, just like Khan, Bhutto even alleged there was a document proving that Washington was colluding with the Pakistani military and Deep State to move against him.
It’s hard to tell how much Washington has been involved in this current conspiracy against the former sports icon: or whether Pakistan’s substantial Deep State and elite has simply acted on its own to protect and maintain a corrupt status quo.
While Khan’s insistence that the US was behind the political and legal coup against him is understandable (and might be true), the Pakistani Deep State is more than motivated enough to have done all of this without any support from overseas.
Though again, Washington’s silence could be taken as tacit endorsement of their actions.
And documents leaked via The Intercept prove that what Khan was referring to when spoke of the Washington plot against him was true – even if it isn’t itself necessarily proof of a US-backed coup.
Even when Khan was shot by a would-be assassin, no one in the West seemed to have anything to say.
Which implies that foreign observers mostly do want Khan out of the picture: and are therefore keeping quiet.
In international terms, the writing might’ve been on the wall for Khan, as previously noted, when he refused to follow the West’s lead in regard to Ukraine: and even went so far as to meet with Putin in Moscow in the midst of Russia’s invasion.
To Western eyes, this was outrageous. To Khan, it was merely neutrality. Pakistan, he said, was not just a puppet of the West – it had the right to decide its own foreign policy.
Similar things were said by the ill-fated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto decades ago.
Domestically, Khan’s biggest mistake might’ve been directly naming the military and political figures he believed were behind the assassination attempt on him last year.

At any rate, its hard to see how anyone in Pakistan is going to have any trust or faith in its institutions anymore.

This disillusion will be multiplied if this final vote count is perceived to be dishonest.
The result of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s overthrow and execution was years of military dictatorship and martial law.
The result of Imran Khan’s overthrow some forty years later will be, at the very least, a political establishment and system that is seen as illegitimate and imposed, a country in which any real people power is actively suppressed and neutralised, and a democracy that is widely viewed by its own citizens as a sham.
Not that Pakistan is alone in having a hugely compromised democracy. ‘Democracy’ and elections in Russia, for example, are a joke.  And even the United States is having a crisis in that department, as witnessed in the last presidential election – with the one coming up this year not exactly set to be a clean affair.
But for their own sake, the institutions in Pakistan need to be seen to have held a legitimate election and to have honoured a legitimate outcome.  If that isn’t borne out in the next few days or weeks, the tension and anger in the country could boil over in a big way.
The vested interests and political classes don’t care if the majority of the people are completely disenfranchised and unrepresented.
They don’t even care if the people hate and resent the institutions of state or if the people feel betrayed – so long as they can maintain their positions and their privileges.
Meanwhile a military and Deep State that has wielded the true power all along would rather deal with corrupt and self-serving politicians than with the will of the people or any disruption to the status quo.
It is therefore the country’s institutions, specifically the courts and the judiciary, that will have to get things right at a very volatile moment.
They certainly haven’t done a great job of it so far.
Imran Khan’s own political story seems to be over, at any rate.

But the jailed former PM, whether you like him or not, already has a substantial legacy – which is being borne out in the very elections he was banned from.


S. Awan

Independent journalist. Pariah. Believer in human rights, human dignity and liberty. Musician. Substandard Jedi. All-round failure. And future ghost.

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