The eleventh elections, held on 25 July of this year, in the lower house of parliament (the National Assembly of Pakistan) attracted a great deal of attention from the international media as well as experts on world politics. The results of these elections can have a profound effect on both, the situation in Pakistan and the political environment that surrounds it.
Experts have called the 25 July elections the second ever democratic change in power in Pakistan, during which the army (de facto the main political player in Pakistan) did not come out of the “shadows”.
The first democratic election is viewed to have taken place in May 2013, when the Pakistan Muslim League party, headed by the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, won convincingly. It was then that the army, the primary force reining in the Islamization of the country’s political sphere, had to retreat into the previously mentioned “shadows”.
It is still unclear whether the Military Intelligence agencies were involved in leaking information about Nawaz Sharif’s corrupt affairs to the press. Nonetheless, in 2017, the Supreme Court of Pakistan made a decision to oust Nawaz Sharif from the post of Prime Minister. And on 6 July of this year, three weeks before the elections, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
This resulted in thousand-strong protests by his supporters, as well as a number of terrorist attacks in different cities in Pakistan.
In this environment, the latest “democratic act” took place in the sixth most populated nation of the world (and second most populated, after Indonesia, among Muslim nations).
It is worth noting that Pakistan is located in a region, where interests of regional and world players, such as China, India, the USA, Russia and Iran, collide. And amidst the competition on different levels among them, Pakistan is not, by any means, a passive pawn subject to external influence.
The nation is actively involved in the lengthy conflict in Afghanistan, whose 2,500 km-border it shares. And this is the only circumstance that could be put clearly and in short. However the issue (which we will sidestep in this article) of such Pakistan’s involvement and its aims is fairly complex.
Everything is far simpler on the almost 3 km-border opposite to that between Pakistan and Afghan, i.e. border between India and Pakistan, which are, it is important to highlight, de facto nuclear powers that either are constantly at war, or are constantly in preparation for one. This situation stems from the “birth trauma” (that has remained untreated), received when these two independent nations came into being in 1947.
At first examination of the nature of this trauma is defined as “conflict in Kashmir.” This rift is the product of the unresolved issue of who the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir belongs to. The state that was one of approximately 650 quasi-state entities comprising then British Raj. Jammu and Kashmir, mainly populated by Muslims, was divided into more or less equal halves in 1947, and the Indo-Pakistani wars that followed did not result in any changes in ownership.
Until recently the hopeless futility and danger associated with the situation on the 750 km Line of Control, the Kashmir section of the India–Pakistan border, was compared to the Korean Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula. But as we noted earlier as soon as the process aimed at resolving the complex Korean issue began, glimmers of hope appeared that the Kashmir conflict could also have a positive outcome, and result in the normalization of the relations between India and Pakistan.
This issue, among others, was at the forefront of discussions by various political players during the preparation stages for the National Assembly of Pakistan elections. Since the 70-year old confrontation against India, which has more or less played a consolidating role in the national internal political sphere and let support to the army’s current status as the “shadowy” head of Pakistan, has, at the same time, exhausted the country morally and economically.
Hence the pre-election rhetoric by Imran Khan, the leader of the Movement for Justice party that won on 25 July, was closely tied to the serious issues associated with the hard financial and economic situation in the country, and the need to somehow solve the Kashmir conflict, an essential precondition to normalizing the relations with India.
At the time this article was being written, Imran Khan was in the coalition talks, as the victorious Movement for Justice party did not have the majority of votes in parliament.
External commentators who, as mentioned earlier, were following the events in Pakistan in recent months, expressed varied opinions about the possible changes in the internal as well as external politics of the country.
Seemingly, the Reuters Agency is not far from the truth in its reports that the future Prime Minister’s actions are severely limited.
For example, he has been advised to exercise extreme caution when re-allocating government spending in order to fulfill his populist pre-election promises. Any attempts to cut the military budget are unlikely to be met with approval from the army, which, as stated earlier, had supported Imran Khan in his election campaign preparation and staging.
Meanwhile, strong terms such as “crisis” and “catastrophe” are often used to describe the current state of Pakistan’s financial system. Apparently, the nation’s remaining foreign currency reserves can only pay for two months worth of imports. Hence, the country needs external credit lines, that could, in principle, come from China and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
However, Beijing, last year alone, lent Islamabad $5.5 billion, and Pakistan is planning on receiving its 12th loan amounting to more than $10 billion from the IMF. But, there is a well known mandatory condition attached to any money loaned by this far from charitable organization, that is of cutting government expenses. This means that Imran Khan will not be able to fulfill those pre-election promises that actually ensured his victory.
Finally, it is essential to briefly focus on the initial world-wide reactions towards the results of Pakistan’s parliamentary elections. In India it has been fairy positive in nature. The reaction from the US and the EU has been, by and large, positive too, but less obviously so, although (as is customary among “licensed” political pundits) election irregularities were severely criticized.
China’s reaction towards Pakistani elections can be best described as moderate. The following article refutes all the obvious claims that Islamabad’s involvement in the grandiose initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, has led to a depletion of the nation’s foreign reserves, seemingly spent on buying equipment that will not pay off soon.
Overall, the keen observers are continuing to follow further developments in Pakistan after its parliamentary elections, and are in no hurry to come to any definitive conclusions.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”