Re-Election: The Full Argument
Author’s Note: This article was drafted in August 2018 on the eve of Imran Khan’s election as the 30th Prime Minister of Pakistan and, due to the highly speculative nature of its analysis, it was circulated only privately by the author. However, since the necessary international events predicted by the analysis have come to pass, it is the right time to share it with the general public of Pakistan so that they may take the necessary corrective action while there is still a good chance of success – something that has been so obviously missing from the performance of the present State and Government of Pakistan.
Imran Khan’s election as the 30th Prime Minister of Pakistan came in a manner that necessarily disabled the Pakistani state from either successfully running the government or, more importantly, dealing with the qualitative political changes taking place in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The only solution – even one after the fact – is that we should immediately rectify the blunder we made on 25th July 2018 and hold a free and fair election with the full involvement of the opposition and early announcement of the results.
To unpack and explain the above argument, let’s take our memory back to the eve of the 2018 elections. At the time, there were three general arguments for a PML-N victory in the National Assembly:
- Manifestos and rhetoric of all the political parties promised human development, especially through health and education, as their top priority. However, PML-N had shown the most solid performance and vision to back up its promises, with such laurels to boast as eradication of the power crisis, liberal legal reforms and prosecution of Gen Musharraf for subversion of the Constitution (the last in collaboration with the Chaudhry Court).
- A reasonably free and fair election must be held (which is to say, no restriction on people’s right to vote on polling day and an early announcement of results). Given that pre-Panama, PML-N was widely believed to sweep polls and since Panama affected Nawaz Sharif and his immediate family in person only, leaving the rest of his family and party intact, PML-N was expected to come out the winner.
- Kashmir is ripe for independence from India, if only Pakistan were to properly pursue that nascent nation’s cause before the United Nations and the United States. Since India would not talk to Pakistan’s military, or for that matter, the softballs like the PTI or PPP, and would more than gladly talk to the royally minded and pro-Indian Sharifs, therefore, PML-N was also the natural choice here.
However, all three of these arguments are from the viewpoint of that mythical entity known as the New Establishment, which actively seeks a permanent democracy in Pakistan, as I tried to describe in my opinion here on 21 December 2017.
However, for the reasons best known only to the Old Establishment (understood as comprising the career politicians, the superior judiciary and the army), the elections have given around 43% national assembly seats to PTI, and a consensus among PML-N, PPP, and JUI-F that the army has stolen the election by force during the counting process.
Unless PPP changes its mind, this joint opposition itself seems capable of winning the office of the prime minister at its whim. On top of that, PTI now apparently has to ally with some utterly provincial parties like MQM and BNP to form the federal government.
By producing such an explosive and unsustainable Parliament, it is obvious that the Old Establishment has messed it up royally (provided of course that PPP continues to remember that democracy is the best revenge) and failed to produce a solid result to sustain a Parliament for a full five-year term.
The situation is such a glaring blunder that even Imran Khan would soon raise his hands. It could not get any worse for him: a coalition government with a majority of only four in a House of 342 with a seemingly united opposition. Nobody wants a re-election in his heart of hearts more than Imran Khan does.
[One year later, it would suffice to add that the 64-50-64 performance by the opposition in the Senate has not only reduced Pakistan’s democracy to a laughing stock but has also shown the ridiculous consequences of successfully suppressing a constitutional reality by sheer brute force.]
In addition to PPP’s historic malice against the army generals and the judges, the Old Establishment also appears to have overlooked a landmark regional play in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
As it happens, rather surprisingly, the Afghans, including the Taliban, appear tired of fighting empires and each other constantly for almost 40 years now, and the Kashmiris, in the rather conventional Afghan style, appear to have sworn to die fighting for freedom from the foreign Indian forces. That means, the non-state military actors nurtured by the Pakistan army for both Afghanistan and Kashmir have become redundant: the former no longer have local support and the latter no longer need any foreign support.
Ideally, the situation requires that the US withdraw its own and other foreign forces from Afghanistan leaving behind a constitutional settlement for all the Afghans and also force India to do the same in Kashmir.
One ought not to be too optimistic, but it would not be out of course for a declining American empire in the rising age of regional blocks (in this case, a regional block involving four declared nuclear powers – that is, Russia, China, India and Pakistan – and one imminent – that is, Iran – with history of pre-nuclear wars between India and Pakistan and India and China), that Trump, who otherwise might be impeached before he could contest a second term, could be tempted with not only a complete term but also a Nobel and a second term, for achieving both these feats, a proposition that would definitely appear to be divine intervention for Trump.
All Pakistan needs to do in this solution is to be in a position where it can be trusted not to interfere militarily through non-state actors in either Afghanistan or Kashmir. Surely, the Pakistani army, like any other army, cannot be trusted to guarantee not fighting a war. The guarantee must come from the politicians, which for obvious reasons, are a sign of peace rather than war.
The hope was that the 2018 general elections in Pakistan would be at least as fair and well-managed as those of 2008 and 2013 were. However, the military has cast such a dark and dictatorial shadow over the politicians in 2018 in general, and on the vote counting process in particular, that Pakistan appears to have sold Kashmiris out to the Indian military and undertaken to sacrifice more Afghans at the altar of the American and other foreign militaries.
This author has earlier argued that the US, having sufficiently avenged herself for 9/11, should now leave Afghanistan in the earliest, because the Pakistani state is increasingly taking a secular hue, which might jeopardize Pakistan’s democracy in near future because of the continued hatred in Pakistan’s mostly Muslim society against the non-Muslim military presence in the neighbouring Muslim country of Afghanistan, practically reflected in the form of militant jihad.
Putting the above analysis of the 2018 general elections and the contemporary regional play together, it is clear that the Old Establishment is at it again, with all its recklessness and even at the expense of Kashmir, in search of the next direct military rule in Pakistan, this time ostensibly to introduce liberalism or secularism in Pakistan but actually to support America’s presence in Afghanistan.
However, it is safe to assume that Trump and Modi are not as beholden to their generals as Imran Khan is to his. Moreover, as argued in my last opinion on the subject mentioned above, the New Establishment is fully capable of exposing and neutralizing any of the power moves by the Old Establishment, including the generals, which encumber the march of democracy in Pakistan. Lastly, it is also safe to assume that freedom for Kashmir is an integral part of the Pakistani national psyche, which, if shown to be possible at any given point in time, can make even the Old Establishment stop and look.
Accordingly, the following six questions arise for the struggling Old Establishment to consider with regards to the argument for a general re-election on all national and provincial assembly seats:
- Is it the New Establishment that prevented PTI from getting an absolute majority in the National Assembly?
- Is it the New Establishment that is keeping PPP from joining Imran Khan’s government?
- Is the New Establishment capable of creating what was known in the 1990s as ‘a failure of the constitutional machinery’, for example, by convincing MQM or BNP to abandon PTI or by getting the Supreme Court to disqualify Imran Khan for improper acquisition of his Bani Gala residence or, less probably, for failing to declare a daughter among his children?
- Is the New Establishment capable of convincing Imran Khan to dissolve the National Assembly soon after his election as Prime Minister and request the President for re-election, lest he loses all his heart, mind and face?
- Can the Old Establishment force the Afghan Taliban to fight a war that they no longer want to fight?
- Can the Old Establishment forgive itself for missing out on only the second good opportunity since 1947 to free Kashmir from India?
The answers to the above questions should with lead all sense and reason to a consensus among the entire professional political class, including and especially PTI, that discarding the July 25 elections and holding re-elections in the earliest without any significant or visible involvement of the army is the only way forward.
Needless to say, a generally acceptable re-election now managed completely by the civilians (including the judiciary) might still produce exactly the same result. But only then would we be able to achieve, even though PTI, or PPP for that matter, the three objectives identified in the beginning of this opinion: domestic human development, democratic politics across the country, and freedom for Kashmir.
It is also important to point out at this juncture that nobody across the entire mainstream political spectrum in Pakistan has a better deal to offer going forward, or in fact any plausible deal at all.
And lastly, the professional political class in Pakistan, it is hoped, has now been firmly reassured, by whoever plays the role of the international establishment, that it is now useless to stash black money in offshore accounts or simply escape to Dubai with it after a heist in Pakistan. They have no choice now but to devise ways and means of living a long and happy life right here in the Land of the Pure. The proposed general re-election is the rite of passage they are looking for and cannot afford to miss.
The author is a lawyer and a civil servant based in Lahore.