Roving Periscope: Army-herded old goats gang up to keep Imran’s younger flock away from power
New Delhi: Despite all the odds, former cricket star-turned-politician Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi has effectively turned the tables not only on the hitherto all-powerful Pakistani Army but also on the Old Guards in traditional political parties.
For, even after remaining behind wars since August 2023, watching his political outfit’s near disintegration, and supporters contesting the just-concluded parliamentary polls without his symbol, he seems to have the last laugh.
From behind bars, Imran even gave an AI-enabled victory speech declaring the “London Plan”–the return of Mian Muhammed Nawaz Sharif in October 2023 from self-exile in London since 2018, to take oath as Pakistan’s Prime Minister a fourth time–as a “failure.”
Last weekend’s staggered results of the National Assembly polls held on February 8, amid accusations of delaying tactics, widespread rigging, and wanton malpractices, have thrown up a strange outcome, forcing Pakistan’s old rivals into a huddle and work up a coalition to thwart Imran Khan, the media reported on Monday.
According to the final results made public on Sunday, independents backed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won 97 of 265 seats, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 76, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) secured 54, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) garnering 17. In the 336-strong National Assembly, the remaining seats are reserved for nomination by the winning political parties and the minorities.
Imran Khan’s PTI claimed the results of at least 18 National Assembly seats were “falsely changed” by election officers, according to a report in Dawn. Police imposed restrictions on “illegal gatherings” after PTI and other parties urged supporters to protest alleged rigging in Thursday’s elections.
PTI also appealed to its supporters in the United Kingdom and the United States to protest the alleged rigging of votes in the elections.
The fractured verdict has forced dynastic parties run by the Sharif and Bhutto clans to “agree in principle to save the country from political instability,” amid reports that panicked business and industry leaders might shift their base to the UAE.
The Sharifs’ family shop PML (N), and Bilawal Bhutto’s PPP held meetings over the past two days to cobble up a coalition after the poll results threw up a hung parliament.
The military is trying to make sure these parties closed ranks after Khan’s loyalists — running as independents — defied the odds with a strong performance in Thursday’s election, showing the public’s enduring support for Khan and disillusionment with the status quo. It could also lead to more protests and unrest across the country.
The PPP said it would consider PML-N’s proposal. Sharif “sought the help” of Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto, to form a government, the PPP said in a statement posted on X.
Neither party disclosed the details of the proposal, instead posting videos of members of the two families embracing and holding talks in the sprawling Bhutto Zardari residence in Lahore.
A coalition of the two political clans could raise tensions after an already contentious election, which saw Khan’s winners shock observers by winning the most seats but falling short of a majority.
Any delays in forming a government would weigh on a nearly bankrupt economy already challenged on several fronts. Inflation is running at nearly 30 percent, the fastest pace in Asia, and the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout program will expire in March, suggesting the next leader will have to negotiate a fresh deal to keep the country afloat.
Imran Khan’s PTI is moving the courts against the Election Commission to attempt to force recounts in some National Assembly seats that it lost. Party supporters have held protests across cities in Pakistan and blocked a motorway in Peshawar to draw attention to election rigging.
The omnipresent army has ruled Pakistan directly or behind the scenes for most of the restive country since 1947 but claimed recently it will no longer be involved in politics. Khan accused the generals of conspiring with other political parties to oust him from power in April 2022 and being responsible for the crackdown against him and his PTI outfit, allegations the military have repeatedly denied.
Meanwhile, the PMN (L) and PPP are trying to poach into Imran’s herd.