Pakistan Elections Are Imminent

Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections on February 8, 2024. They will take place after a protracted crisis stemming from the impeachment of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (spring 2023) and his subsequent arrest on dubious charges. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, convicted of corruption, returned from London and resumed leadership of the “Muslim League-N”. The letter N stands for his name, as the party split in the 1990s and their leaders’ names were used to distinguish two factions.

The military allowed Sharif to return to the country, and the court acquitted him of charges, permitting him to run for election. This suggests that an agreement was reached regarding his future political career. The “League-N” is currently facing internal criticism due to the Sharifs promoting their relatives to government posts, despite its waning popularity in Pakistan. However, the establishment is optimistic that Nawaz Sharif will become the next leader.

Pakistan has a federal system of government with a bicameral parliament consisting of the National Assembly and Senate. Additionally, representatives will be elected to provincial legislatures in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Assembly has 336 deputies, with 10 seats allocated to representatives of regional minorities (including Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and pagans) and 60 seats reserved for women. The remaining 266 are divided into Punjab (141), Sindh (61), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (45), Balochistan (16), and Islamabad (3). The number of seats in legislative assemblies differs by province. Moreover, there are still the administered territories of Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir.

The Senate is composed of one hundred members, with 92 ones elected from the provinces, 4 from Islamabad, and another 4 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Unlike the Assembly, which dissolves, the Senate does not cease to function, but half of the members are re-elected every three years.

Punjab is a crucial province due to its high population density. Political parties are already negotiating for control, with the Sharif clan hoping to win the provincial assembly.

In the 2018 elections, representatives from 12 parties and 13 independent deputies were elected to the Assembly from a list of about 40 parties.

The intrigue continues even after Nawaz Sharif’s return. Pakistan’s current political landscape is a mix of neo-feudalism, clan structures, ethnic solidarity, and various Muslim trends. These range from radical Islamism to traditional Sufism.

They are all organized into political parties in their own special way. The Bhutto-Zardari clan traditionally represents the People’s Party in Balochistan. Punjab is ruled by the Sharif family and their “League-N” (based in Lahore, the country’s cultural capital). In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Imran Khan’s “Justice Movement” has gained recent popularity (largely due to the ethnic Pashtun factor), but the “Awami National Party” is also actively present there. The radical Jamaat-i Islami also holds a strong position, as many of its supporters reside in Waziristan. The “Muslim League-K” is attempting to secure a few seats for itself in Punjab. Smaller parties may hold strong positions at provinces, but they are inferior to major parties at the national level.

The establishment decides who to support or ostracize. Traditionally, the military has been guardians of statehood, although, with Western assistance, they have often been pressured to democratize. But the army’s pretense of making concessions and implementing democratic reforms over the last few decades has not been successful, as we can see.

The Justice Movement is facing various challenges, including arrests and injunctions. As a result, there are two options for the current situation. In the first, politicians have access to the electoral process to express their views and appear objective. Whether the representatives of Movement will accept such a compromise depends on it. Imran Khan is behind bars, so the leadership of the party and supporters is limited.

The second option is to narrow the scope of their participation as much as possible to marginalize them across the country. There is a risk of social disobedience and riots here, if not in Islamabad itself, then elsewhere, especially in Peshawar. The Movement’s primary supporters are young people who feel excluded from social mobility and are critical of the establishment and the re-election of Nawaz Sharif. Imran Khan is known for his strong stance against corruption. The crackdown on his party is seen as reminiscent of a military dictatorship, with a façade of old clans that have been involved in numerous scandals.

Earlier, the court has prohibited the party’s symbols, which include a bat. For this reason, Movement candidates filed to run as independents with their own symbols. The party leadership is trying to get the necessary discipline and accountability from its members, which is only natural. The ruling coalition was destroyed by the earlier 2023. Now, the establishment seems to be trying to atomize the party and work with each past candidate to discredit and destroy this movement.

Imran Khan, who is currently in jail, has promised his opponents from both the establishment and political parties that they’ll receive a ‘good shock’ on polling day. In general, he calls what has happened to him and his party nothing less than “London’s plan.” He believes that his arrest, actions by the Election Commission of Pakistan, the police, and the Federal Investigation Agency are all part of a conspiracy against him and his party. “People are kidnapped and tortured, and if they don’t comply, they end up in the intensive care unit,” he said in a recent statement.

He’d earlier blamed the US for his ouster as he received threats through Pakistan’s ambassador to that country. Imran Khan visited Moscow on the day the operation in Ukraine began (February 24, 2022). He did not cancel his meetings and did not condemn Russia’s actions, even upon his return to Pakistan, despite demands from Western ambassadors.

Bushra Bibi, Imran Khan’s wife, is facing public disgrace as her ex-husband has filed a lawsuit against her. He alleges that she violated Shariah norms related to the period before consummating a new marriage.

Furthermore, on January 16, Sheikh Rashid, the former interior minister and chief of “Awami Muslim League”, was arrested in connection with the May 9 case. During this time, riots broke out across the country in response to Imran Khan’s arrest.

On January 17, a suspected terrorist headquarters in Balochistan was hit by an Iranian missile strike, which marred Pakistan’s election campaign. The Pakistani side claimed two children were killed and several others were injured. Islamabad has recalled its ambassador from Iran and said they may implement a symmetrical response. Baloch separatists are listed as terrorist organizations in both Pakistan and Iran. This poses a threat to these countries. They are known to have Western support and the Jandallah movement was overseen by the CIA.

This could be a perfect example of external forces provoking two countries into conflict. Although Iranian and Pakistani intelligence cooperate on counterterrorism, this case study shows that the current format is not sufficient to provide meaningful security. And Russia could help in this matter. China, meanwhile, has warned Pakistani authorities to refrain from escalating with Iran, although several media outlets in that country have already labeled Iran a terrorist state and protests have burned Iranian flags and portraits of the supreme leader.

But there are plenty of other problems, as well. First of all, the activity of Pakistani Taliban, which is a branch of the movement from Afghanistan.

Pakistan is pressuring the Afghan Taliban to take significant action against its Pakistani wing. This may not be enough as the Afghan Taliban have refused to do anything about it.

Last October, Pakistan decided to deport all Afghans without proper documents in response. And there are two million of such. Thousands of people have left the country so far.

Pakistan also has serious problems with inflation and external debts. The IMF granted another loan to repay the debt, but demanded cuts in social subsidies and structural reforms. This has led to an increase in gas and electricity prices. The population in 2023 is significantly impoverished, leading to social tensions.

It should be noted that Pakistan is on the list of friendly countries for Russia. In recent years, there has been no significant increase in economic, political, or scientific-cultural relations. The main areas of Russia’s presence in Pakistan are the gas industry and metallurgy (a plant in Karachi was built during the Soviet era). Major infrastructure and IT projects have long been overseen by China, which is Pakistan’s main donor. The China-Pakistan Corridor with Gwadar Deep Sea Port is a key project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China also helps with various loans and products. And for Pakistan, cooperation with China is also important because of deterring India, with which it has a territorial dispute over Kashmir.

By the way, if Nawaz Sharif does become prime minister, relations with Russia are unlikely to be affected for the worse. He was in Russia for the SCO and BRICS summit in Ufa in 2015 when Pakistan was admitted to the SCO. Also, regardless of who is in power, China will retain its position. Pakistan’s main partners Turkey and Saudi Arabia are also likely to be unaffected. Will be a further cooling of relations with the West, as there was under Imran Khan? That’s a big question. Nawaz Sharif is known for his ties with the British. London is unlikely to refuse an opportunity to exercise influence through his man. It’s important not to miss this chance.

Pakistan Elections Are Imminent

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