Author: General (ret.) Sashi Asthana
The election results of Pakistan in 2024 indicate that if free and fair elections would have been held, the PTI under Imran Khan would have come to power, but this was not to the liking of the establishment/deep state (Pakistan Army). The deep state therefore skilfully played its cards well in advance by severing the identity of PTI and disqualifying Imran Khan forcing PTI members to contest independently to ensure that they do not get the reserved seat quota for women and minority candidates and do not reach a position to form the government despite giving semblance of free and fair election. As the results poured in with PTI backed independents galloping towards majority, some tweaking was allegedly done by establishment to keep them below the threshold level to come into the power, against which PTI supporters seem to be protesting in large numbers.
In 2024 elections the establishment has smartly played the game differently to ensure that that every stakeholder remains well below the threshold level of claiming simple majority to form the government. This gives opportunity to the establishment to stack numbers for chosen prime minister from behind the scene, thus selecting a puppet Prime Minister who can be displayed as an elected Prime Minister for global consumption, and displaced by the establishment, whenever he becomes uncomfortable to it. The current political scene has been so masterminded that no civil leader of Pakistan can challenge the power of its Army, which will retain all levers of power in foreseeable future.
Why Pakistani Army Remains the Power Centre in Pakistan?
Pakistan is well used to being governed by its Army since its existence. Out of 77 years of its independence, Pakistan Army has ruled the country directly for significant time and for the remaining period it has ruled through selected Prime Minister. The fact that no Prime minister completed his full five year term ever, indicates the fragile nature of its democracy.
One of the major reason has been that with repeated wars since its independence, Pakistan Army has been able to sell the narrative that India is its biggest existential threat and Pakistan Army is the only establishment, which can save it from such threat; hence, all levers of power must remain with it. The ‘India Threat Theory’ became more pronounced and convincing to public after humiliating defeat in 1971 war from India, resulting the country losing East Pakistan as liberated sovereign Bangladesh. Even while not ruling the country, the Army has always maintained the over-riding authority over nation’s defence, internal security, foreign affairs and more recently over its economy, which will not change in future too.
The Army’s narrative was backed by exposing corruption of all the politicians at opportune moments as most politicians repeatedly proved their corrupt credentials in public eye, making them unreliable to hold real power. Although Army Generals are no less corrupt but they have been able to control their own exposure to public, due to absolute hold over all the concerned agencies and establishments including judiciary.
Why Pakistan Army Dumped Imran Khan
During last election Imran Khan was seen to be the selected candidate of Pakistan Army. Once he started challenging it in some of the issues, the clash started and the final divorce was the event when PTI supporters physically attacked some Army establishments. The deep state thereafter has been trying out various alternatives to keep him out of power, even if it amounted dry cleaning Nawaz Sharif of all his previous wrong doings and trying him as viable option. The Pakistan Army is trying to ensure that it doesn’t face any challenge from politicians.
The only challenge which Pakistan Army is facing is from terrorist organizations like the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP), the Baluchistan Liberation Army, and other related groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan are actively attacking the Pakistan Army, and this situation will not alter regardless of the outcome of the elections/political settlement. The election doesn’t bring any hope in improvement of internal security situation.
Possible Political Outcome
With the hung parliament, despite PTI backed independent candidates and supporters claiming victory, the PMLN’s claiming to be the largest political party, may well be facilitated to muster the required numbers by encouraging the other political parties and some independents to join in, besides the allotment of reserved quota seats. The recent statement of Pakistan Army Chief indicates a guideline for political parties to get together to form the Government. There may be some adjustments, permutations and a combination of power-sharing among the parties concerned, but a weak democratic government at the mercy of the Pakistan Army will emerge to survive an unprecedented economic and political crisis.
In case the puppet regime fails to resolve the crisis, becomes unpopular or follows the narrative uncomfortable to the Army (like improving relations with India or hindering smooth operations of terrorists), Pakistan Army will have a popular leader Imran Khan in reserve, who can be easily dry cleaned of all his crimes/corruption cases (as has been done in case of Nawaz Sharif) and be reinstated through non confidence motion at appropriate time.
Why USA and China Ignore Democratic Backsliding in Pakistan?
Pakistan strategic space and it’s control over some of the terrorist groups is still important for United States, in case it has to launch any operation against any terror organisation like Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. USA has been supporting the dictatorship in Pakistan historically to suit its strategic aim in Af-Pak Region and it is used to dealing with Pakistan Army directly, closing its eyes to sham democratic credentials of Pakistan. The non-committal statements from US State Department indicate that whichever is the party in power, US will work with it as it knows that finally it will deal with Army/establishment, which will not change. China too needs the strategic space of Pakistan for its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects and finds it’s Army useful as nuisance creator for India through proxy war. Both USA and China do not see any political leadership stable enough for long-term engagement and prefer to work with Pakistan Army, whom they see as relatively more reliable. Pakistan Army will continue to ignore international criticism about its treatment to PTI and Imran Khan, with support of P5 member like China.
How Does it Impact India?
The biggest hindrance in peaceful engagement between India and Pakistan is its support to the terror groups against India and its proxy war in Kashmir. All these are part of deliberate strategy of Pakistan Army, because strained relations with India increases its relevance in public perception, giving it an excuse to retain all levers of power. The election results and possible political outcome does not change the pivotal role of Pakistan Army in any of these matters. In view of that the election outcome does not bring any hope of better relations between India and Pakistan, unless the dire economic and internal situation in Pakistan forces it’s Army to change its stance towards India. Irrespective of the outcome of Government formation, Pakistan is likely to remain politically and economically unstable, which is not a good news for the region.
Major General (Dr) S B Asthana
(The views expressed are personal views of the author, who retains the copy right. The author is a Globally acknowledged Strategic and Security Analyst, He can be reached at Facebook and LinkedIn as Shashi Asthana, @asthana_shashi on twitter, and personnel site https://asthanawrites.org/ email firstname.lastname@example.org LinkedIn Profile www.linkedin.com/in/shashi-asthana-4b3801a6