• By: Ali Inan

Pakistan stands at a critical juncture in its history. With the worrying spectre of post elections manoeuvring, the nation faces significant challenges. The country’s most popular politician behind the bars had cast doubt on the prospects for a genuinely democratic electoral process.

The role of the all-powerful establishment, and judicial debates have been echoing, pre-elections. The legislative steps such as the E-Safety Bill, Personal Data Protection Bill, Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill and amendments to the Army Act had not only raised discontent and a furore against pre-elections manoeuvring, but also generated legal debates questioning the validity of such acts in a democracy.

Post elections, the discussions about the inefficiency of the election commission have been haunting the political spectrum. Significantly, the unofficial results have been both revealing of the wishes of the masses and yet the will of the real power brokers. Concurrently, Pakistan grapples with a faltering economy marked by escalating poverty, and dependence on IMF alongside a disturbing increase in terrorist activities. The road ahead is not just bumpy, but also a maze and a crossroads portending a divisive and a dark political journey.

The world community has also expressed its concerns over the fairness and process of elections. British Foreign Minister David Cameron said, “We express regret that certain political leaders were barred from participating in the elections and that identifiable party symbols could not be used, and that not all parties were officially allowed to run for office.” He emphasized upon the need to free trial, transparent judiciary and further said, “We also note the restrictions imposed on internet access on polling day, significant delays to the reporting of results, and claims of irregularities in the counting process.”

The United States, State Department, has also urged for a thorough investigation into allegations of interference or fraud during Pakistan’s recent general elections. The US State Department condemned “electoral violence, restrictions on the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including attacks on media workers, and restrictions on access to the Internet and telecommunication services.” The European Union also called “upon the relevant authorities to ensure a timely and full investigation of all reported election irregularities and to implement the recommendations of the upcoming EU Election Expert Mission report.”

This indicates that the expected coalition government might face protests and allegations of rigging within the country, triggering further political instability in an already politically polarized state.

The masses have been scrupulous of the violations of fundamental rights as also expressed by the post-election concerns of the global community. The E-Safety Bill and Personal Data Protection Bill ostensibly aim to safeguard citizens’ data but also set the stage for potential state surveillance.

They propose civilian courts and oversight mechanisms that could be exploited to monitor and suppress digital dissent and restrict online free speech. The Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill, 2023, grants broader powers to intelligence agencies and imposes harsher penalties for intelligence leaks. It expands the definition of an “enemy,” prohibits unauthorized disclosure of intelligence agents’ identities, and allows agencies to conduct searches and seizures without warrants.

The bill has sparked concerns, especially after the sudden disappearances and reappearances of political figures following its passage. Amendments to the Pakistan Army Act redefine the military’s role in the economy, legally protecting its past, present, and future economic activities, and affiliated businesses. These changes solidify the military’s economic involvement and introduce strict controls over military personnel’s political activities to pre-empt dissent amid rumoured internal divisions prompted by Khan’s actions against the military.

The public sentiment, irrespective of any political affiliation, has been against the restrictions. The masses would also expect the democratically elected government to introduce progressive policies to safeguard privacy and guarantee fundamental rights in accordance with the spirit of democracy.

Moreover, Economically, Pakistan confronts persistent challenges, including inflation and fiscal deficits, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Public discontent simmers as households grapple with diminishing purchasing power and rising poverty rates. The reliance on IMF programs underscores the need for structural reforms and consensus among Pakistani elites to address systemic inequalities.

A reality identified by the three time prime minister Nawaz Sharif in his post elections speech. However, the contentious nature of approaches to economy has been the major divisive factor among the political elite. The Sharif led PML-N presents a more capitalist model in contrast to a Scandinavia inspired social economic model of the Bhutto led PPP. The largest yet shadowed political force PTI, who might not get a priority to voice their ideologue, have a chequered history with the IMF. In addition, the comparatively less voted but influential religious political parties do not seem see eye to eye with the globally accepted economic models. The need to go for an IMF bailout package soon after the elections will also present serious policy questions for the government immediately after taking up the reins of state.

Terrorist activities also pose a grave threat to Pakistan’s stability, compounded by regional dynamics following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The recent border clashes with the western neighbours, namely, Iran and Afghanistan have raised serious foreign policy concerns along with the conventional India question on the eastern front. The changing regional security apparatus, global power shifts amidst the global trade war, and the rise of an AI governed world pose unprecedented questions for Pakistan, post-elections.

The environmental crisis in the backdrop of flood catastrophe in the recent past is another challenge that the new government will need to address. The convergence of political, economic, and security crises (traditional and nontraditional) underscores the urgency for comprehensive reforms and collaborative efforts among stakeholders to steer Pakistan toward inclusive and sustainable development.
There is a bleak outlook and an urgent need for Pakistan’s elite to abandon their power struggles, which prioritize control over Islamabad and Lahore at any cost.

The incarceration of former Prime Minister Khan has thrust his party into mass popularity instead of uncertainty. Despite all challenges, the PTI backed independent candidates, retain a substantial support base, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, remarkable for a party that had apparently fell from grace. However, the PTI’s future hinges on navigating present pressures and retaining its relevance in Pakistani politics. Same is the case for the other two major political parties, namely PML-N, and PPP.

The decisions today will shape the future for both the state and the political stakeholders in Pakistan. It is the crossroads of Pakistan politics, where all the desirable and undesirable paths converge; interestingly, none seem to be desirable, and none can be discarded as the undesirable. It is a field of many paths and no paths. No one knows who takes the wrong turn and whose path is right.

The writer is a PhD Scholar in English Literature, a Lawyer, and an International Relations Analyst.

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