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Pakistan goes to polls

Pakistan is all set to go for general elections on Wednesday and political parties in that country are making their last itch efforts to gain the confidence and support of the voters. The upcoming elections in Pakistan are seen by many quarters as the  most controversial and even murky in the country’s recent history — controversial because of allegations of pre-poll rigging and political engineering to favour a certain political party; and dirty because the language being used by leaders of some political parties is not seen as appropriate.

Having said that elections in a country like Pakistan where democracy remains fragile is not an ordinary event. Optimists think that the country is heading in the right direction with second consecutive democratic transition under civilian rule. Skeptics, however, have serious doubts. Theoretically, democracy must get strengthened after every election. Will that be the case once the elections are over and a new government is installed? Frankly, the post-election scenario does not look that hunky dory unless we address some fundamental questions that have actually halted our progress.

It may be the narrative of one political party but the fact remains that the civil-military divide is still at the heart of our problems. Barring Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf and few other smaller groups, all other mainstream parties are suspicious about the role of security establishment in forming and ousting civilian dispensations. Nawaz Sharif, the three-time former prime minister, who is now in jail serving a 10-year prison term after being convicted in one of the corruption references, is saying it openly. The Pakistan Peoples Party and some other parties may not be that forthcoming but have the same concern. Because of our chequered history and repeated military coups, neither politicians trust the generals nor do men in uniform have a favourable view of elected leaders. This chronic misgiving is the main reason that democracy has never taken root and none of the elected prime ministers ever completed their five-year term. With this baggage, it is essential that some fundamental issues that have been plaguing Pakistan for the last 70 years need to be addressed. Today, Imran Khan may be in the good books of powers that be but tomorrow he may be facing the same fate like his predecessors. Some of his detractors believe that if Imran forms the next government, he may not be able to survive even for a year.

Historically, the security establishment in Pakistan always holds the sway on key policy issues such as foreign policy and national security. First, because the military has directly ruled Pakistan during half of its existence and seconddly, the establishment always has the major say because of the strategic environment and issues Pakistan is faced with. And third, the lack of imagination and acumen of our political class to come up with a comprehensive strategy on such intricate matters has given the establishment the reason to intervene. But this template is not tenable. The deadlock has to be broken. And it is possible only when all the stakeholders have frank, open and candid dialogue. There is a dire need for new rules of engagements that must govern the civil-military relationship.

The elections in Pakistan may be a step in the right direction but failure to address some of the perennial issues can only add to country’s current woes.