Pakistan’s elections marred by corruption, military “engineering” and terrorism

Pakistan, a developing South Asian country with 208 million inhabitants and the only nuclear power from the Islamic world, will elect a new government next Wednesday

Pakistan’s elections marred by corruption, military “engineering” and terrorism
English 20/07/2018 19:09 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 20:03
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Pakistan, a developing South Asian country with 208 million inhabitants and the only nuclear power from the Islamic world, strategically situated in the trade routes between China, Middle East, and Africa, will elect a new government next Wednesday in a process marred by accusations of corruption, military intervention, and terrorism.

Since the independence of the Indian subcontinent from Great Britain in 1947, which resulted in two new states, Pakistan and India, the powerful generals have ruled the former directly or indirectly for most of its history and the outlook today is similar.

Polls indicate a close race between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, or Justice Movement) led by former world cricket champion Imran Khan.

Tensions are running high since ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, facing a conviction in absentia on corruption charges, was arrested on July 13 after landing in Lahore when he returned from London.

Sharif and her daughter and political heir Maryam are held in Rawalpindi, a garrison town adjacent to Islamabad. Their detention sparked a wave of criminal cases against nearly 17,000 party supporters in the central province of Punjab, over breaking election laws.

The investigations include PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif, brother of the three-time head of government and former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who replaced Sharif last year and served until June when the caretaker government took over.

However, no one will be arrested before the elections, according to interim Punjab authorities.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said it was concerned about the legitimacy of the election, stressing “the public perception that all parties have not given equal freedom to run their campaigns.”

After he was exposed in the Panama Papers scandal in 2016 as the owner of four luxury flats in London, Sharif was removed from office by the Supreme Court for not being “honest” and “truthful.”

Earlier, he and Maryam were convicted and barred from contesting elections, because the anti-corruption tribunal decided the family has been unable to disclose how they funded the properties in the British capital.

Jail sentence

Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Sharif alleges the military is aiding a “judicial witch hunt” to prevent the PML-N from winning a second term.

Not a single prime minister has ever completed a five-year term, while the “establishment” composed by the army, the judiciary and the civil service is accused of “political engineering” working behind the scenes to skew the contest in favor of Khan, who describes Sharif as a “criminal”.

Last week, armed forces spokesperson Asif Ghafoor said the military has “no direct role” in the polls. He added that 371,000 soldiers and paramilitary personnel would be providing security at more than 85,000 polling stations for the vote.

In the impoverished southwestern Balochistan province, the PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) denounced the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as having threatened candidates to switch loyalties.

Local political leaders told Pakistani and international media that the new Balochistan Awami Party, formed in March, is the open path for ISI’s involvement in the elections.

Meanwhile, despite the emergence of social media, rapid urbanization and improved education in Punjab feudal lords, tribal chiefs, and clan elders known as “electables” still call the shots.

They are used to switch parties, abandoning the outgoing PML-N to retain their parliamentary seats under the banner of Khan’s PTI.

Punjab accounts for more than half the 272 elected seats in the National Assembly, making it the key election battleground.

Glamorous and surrounded by his fame as a philanthropist—he has set three modern cancer hospitals in the country—Khan, 65, for his part has moved from the secular ideals that he promoted in the 2013 elections to a conservative position, ignoring the rumours about sexual affairs and unacknowledged children which have dogged his career since the 1992 Cricket World Cup.

Still opposed to the war against the Taliban—he has insisted in peace talks both in Pakistan and Afghanistan—Khan, alleged favorite of the “state above the state,” financed through PTI’s government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (former North-West Frontier Province) the madrasa (religious school) of Sami-ul Haq, a notorious front for rebels.

At national level, his promises of a “new Pakistan” often rings hollow.

Just hours before Sharif returned from London, a suicide bomber sent by the Islamic State killed at least 149 people gathered at a rally in Mastung, Balochistan, including a provincial legislature candidate.

Four others died in a bombing in the northwestern town of Bannu.

Regardless of who wins, Pakistan’s economy is teetering and is likely to require a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, after the current account deficit doubled this year.

Islamabad has given a great push to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a series of communication infrastructure and energy projects valued at USD $62 billion part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Whilst the ultimate benefits for the development of the country remains a subject of debate, the CPEC is also seen as part of Pakistan’s geopolitical realignment with China and Russia under the wing of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as well as a counterbalance to the renewed tensions with India in the disputed Kashmir region.

Edited by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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