The expected has happened in Pakistan. The all-powerful Pakistani generals have given the gloss of “constitutional” procedure to strengthen their chokehold on the country at a time when an overt coup would make Pakistan invite sanctions from the United States. As predicted by this newspaper in 2016, they first carried out a judicial coup by using a terrorised judiciary to remove Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, primarily because he wanted the military to stay confined to its barracks. And now they have engineered an electoral verdict in favour of playboy-turned-politician Imran Khan, one of whose qualifications to the post of PM is his vocal support for unlimited expenditure by the military for “securing Pakistan”. It is a verdict “tailor-made” to please the West, particularly the US, which, under President Donald Trump has been calling Pakistan’s bluff regarding its “pure and peaceful” nature and has started cutting aid to punish the military and ISI, with promise of further stringent action unless they stop being the fountainhead of terrorist activities globally. The military needed to give to the West someone who appeared to tick all the boxes of western requirements. So here is an English-speaking, suave and westernised ex sportsman, the first of whose wives belongs to the upper echelons of English society; an outlier, a “crusader” who has been fighting the good fight to cleanse the Pakistani system of nepotism and corruption, except of course in the army; someone whom the western media loves and who still has powerful backers in parts of the western world. Add to that a veneer of a democratically fought election—where both a “corrupt” government and the religious zealots, extremists and terrorist masterminds who had populated the electoral field, get resoundingly defeated—and the result is something that should gladden the cockles of western hearts. But perhaps President Trump’s administration is made of sterner stuff, the reason why it is refusing to give the stamp of legitimacy, yet, that the generals so desire for their puppet.
The worry is that the West, including the US, will be fooled into believing as real the game of smoke and mirrors that the generals are playing. After all, many pro-Pakistan lobbies exist at the international level, feted and fattened by the narco cash of the generals—lobbies that will try to impart a sheen of credibility to the election process. In fact, it is surprising that even a section of the commentariat in India is feeling joyous at the prospect of Imran Khan as Pakistan Prime Minister, thus refusing to see the regressive path that their one-time heartthrob-turned Taliban apologist has taken. Lest anyone forget, Khan is a Wahhabi who has been vocal in his support of the blasphemy laws; a chauvinist who is a proven misogynist, as obvious from his refusal to back pro-women legislation; a chameleon who has taken to extolling the Wahabbi way of life with as much passion as he had taken to “debauchery” in an earlier persona; an extremist who is close to terror groups like the Taliban and who has been endorsing their kangaroo justice system; a dubious character who has joined hands with the likes of Fazlur Rehman Khalil, an Osama bin Laden associate and founder of the US-designated terrorist group Harkatul Mujahideen.
Imran Khan brings to the table nothing for either the West or for India, but for his ability to converse in English. He would have been wandering on the fringes of Pakistan politics, but for the military’s decision to catapult him to the high chair once he was able to prove his loyalty to them and their terror project. But then this is not the first time that the Pakistan military has manufactured a verdict in favour of their selected candidate. Imran would do well to remember 1977 when Zufiqar Ali Bhutto won a victory with the military’s backing, only to be overthrown by General Zia-ul-Haq. Bhutto died by hanging in 1979. Any “misstep” by Khan, any move to carve out his own path, and he will face the wrath of his puppeteers.
This being the situation, the international community needs to stand with the people of Pakistan. Independent reports suggest that if free and fair elections were held, Nawaz Sharif would have romped back home to power. People, particularly those in the Punjab, sympathise with the son of their soil. It is not that Sharif did not indulge in corruption. But then in Pakistan, the greatest practitioners of corruption are the generals themselves and Imran too has filled his party with several daylight-robbers to make a joke of being called an anti corruption crusader. Corruption was hardly an issue in the voting. The common Pakistani is unhappy and the rigged and dishonest selection of Imran Khan may even spark a rebellion (as took place when Mujibur Rahman was deprived of his due in the then East Pakistan) that builds up into a conflagration and dismembers a Pakistan under the jackboot of the military.