Pakistan’s Spring: A Pyrrhic Victory for the Army

Update: 2024-02-19 14:13 GMT
supporter walks past a poster of imprisoned leader Pakistan's Former Prime Minister Imran Khan display at his party office, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Feb. 9, 20204. Independent candidates backed by Khan's party were leading Pakistan's national election results, a day after sporadic violence, allegations of a preordained outcome and a cell phone service shutdown overshadowed the vote. AP/PTI

One cannot but help draw parallels between the upheavals in West Asia caused by the protests that collectively came to be known as the Arab Spring which overthrew autocratic regimes in the 2010s and what is happening in Pakistan today. That Pakistan has been in the doldrums for quite some years now was never in doubt. Its problems have manifested themselves exponentially ever since Imran Khan as Prime Minister fell out of favour with the Army brass by accusing the establishment of kowtowing to foreign powers (read USA). The situation spiralled downhill ever since, with the establishment closing ranks and ousting Imran in a “parliamentary coup”. Imran with his oratory and singlemindedness of purpose roused the streets as no politician before him has ever done in Pakistan, and marched onto the capital. A failed assassination attempt, the slapping of over 150 criminal cases against him and him being jailed only added to his popularity and allure. Stripped of his party symbol, his supporters fought as independents and despite evidence of voter manipulation and rigging, have become the largest bloc in a fractured mandate.

8 Feb 2024 will go down as a red letter day in the history of Pakistan. This election is unprecedented in Pak history and has taken place under the full glare of social media. The establishment did all it could to fix the results. However, the people of Pakistan have spoken. They have defied the establishment and stood with Imran Khan. Social media has exposed the manipulation with dozens of video clips on Twitter and YouTube recording the malpractices for all the world to see. The results showed that independent candidates supported by Imran Khan have won 101 out of 266 seats in the National Assembly despite the rigging.

The PDM 2.0 that is under construction right now is being built on a very shaky foundation. Both PML(N) & the PPP know that they do not have enough of the people’s mandate to form a coalition. Yet they are going ahead with the backing of the Army’s senior leadership which refuses to see the writing on the wall but is ready to give its blessings to what will be considered an illegitimate Govt, not only by the people of Pakistan but by the world at large. It must be understood that the establishment is totally against Khan. It believes that “what India could not do in 75 years, Imran Khan did in one year.” Also it must be remembered that Imran Khan took on long time benefactors of Pakistan, accusing the US of plotting his overthrow. Earlier he had angered Saudi Arabia & UAE by forming an Islamic block with Trukiye & Malaysia before he was pressurised to dissolve it.

The legitimacy of this coalition is being questioned not only on the streets but in the Cantonments too. Officers and their families as well as many veterans, all of whom form a substantial pressure group are sullen. Junior officers and the rank & file are seething with rage. Protests are taking place all across Pakistan. Imran’s supporters too are not giving in and laying claims not only to the National Assembly but also to the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where they are in a clear majority and in Punjab where they believe that they are in a majority but are being unfairly denied the right to form a Govt, by rank subterfuge and manipulation.

The other two important factors that need to be noted are that almost all the independent candidates who were leading in the vote count before the internet lockdown but eventually lost are challenging the results in the Election Commission Tribunal. It is being reported that there are about a hundred such cases. If the petitioners win their cases, the winning candidates are expected to approach the Supreme Court thus continuing what is likely to be a long drawn out battle fuelling more anger and instability.

The other factor is that the President of Pakistan Mr Arif Alvi is an Imran Khan appointee. He has already issued a statement that the will of the people should be respected. His tweets alluding to manipulation of the election results are being quoted by Khan’s supporters and have gone viral. Will he readily recognise a coalition Govt and turn a blind eye to what actually has happened?

The Army is at an inflection point as never before in its history, except when Pakistan lost its Eastern Wing in the 1971 war with India. Gen Munir, the COAS could be eased out by his Corps Cdrs if the situation gets out of hand and he is unable to bring stability to Pakistan.

Let’s us also not discount the background against which all this is taking place. The money in the treasury is barely enough to pay salaries, a loan from the IMF is on the cards but with conditions, Baloch nationalists and the TTP are unrelenting in their terror attacks, food and fuel shortages are getting out of hand and an extremely dry season is upon that benighted land.

A coalition Govt recognised by the President and by world powers may yet be formed. However, given the circumstances under which it has been formed, it will remain unstable for the Pakistani Spring is here to stay. It is not going away in a hurry.

(Lt Gen Gautam Moorthy, PVSM, AVSM VSM, (Retd) is the Founder & MD of CASA (The Current and Strategic Affairs Forum), an independent, virtual think tank. He was a former the Director General of the Army Ordnance Corps & Administrative Member of the Armed Forces Tribunal.)


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