On January 8, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan made serious claims that the powerful military establishment had not learned from past mistakes as “political engineering” was still underway in the country. Khan fears that this year’s general elections will witness Pakistan Army’s unconstitutional involvement in engineering the polls outcome. To prove his claims, he pointed to the rumoured merger of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s factions and Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) members joining the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). It is noteworthy that the military establishment brought Khan to power in August 2018 in a ‘hybrid regime’ experiment. Evidently, Rawalpindi continues to misuse its unlimited powers and intervene in civilian politics despite ‘official’ promises to disengage the military from politics.
As the National Assembly elections are fast approaching in Pakistan, prominent political figures in the country, known as “electable” and “influential”, engage in a frenzied search for suitable platforms to align themselves with, with the goal of securing a share of political power. This process is often influenced by unseen, powerful forces, based in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, that play an outsized role in directing the political choices of these figures towards parties with the greatest chance of winning. For example, in 2018 general elections, Pakistan’s security establishment forced over 20 electables from South Punjab to support Imran Khan’s PTI to form the provincial government in Punjab.
Though no official schedule for the National Assembly elections in Pakistan has been announced yet, political activities have already begun in places such as Balochistan, Karachi, and South Punjab. Electables are reportedly evaluating their electoral chances while the military establishment continues its efforts to shape the outcome of the polls. In South Punjab, electables are reportedly waiting for guidance from the ‘powers that be’ to make their political moves. These ‘turncoats’ play an integral role in South Punjab’s electoral politics, as unlike other parts of the province, major political parties like PML-N, PPP or PTI are not dominant in comparison with independent politicians. There are speculations that South Punjab may plan to create a group like the Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM), which emerged in the lead-up to the 2018 general elections. In Balochistan, former chief minister Aslam Raisani, joined Maulana Fazl ur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) in December, despite having little in common with the party’s ideology. He is not the only Baloch notable political leader to have joined the JUI-F recently. Additionally, several provincial lawmakers of the BAP, which currently governs Balochistan, have switched sides to the PPP, under the close supervision of Pakistan’s former President and PPP patriarch Asif Ali Zardari. The BAP is nothing but a temporary amalgamation, or a forced set-up, of different political parties, created during 2018 elections by the Army establishment to govern Balochistan. Now that its purpose is served, BAP will be dismantled before the next elections and a new ‘puppet’ setup will be put in power in Balochistan.
The unprecedented involvement of Pakistan’s security agencies in Balochistan has significantly hindered the province’s political development, further alienating its population. The electables that are brought together to govern Balochistan have repeatedly failed to address the province’s many issues, leaving the average voter disillusioned with the system. The provincial government in Balochistan is decided in Rawalpindi and temporary political arrangements like BAP or weak coalitions are created during National Assembly elections. Key reasons for such ‘selected’ political setups in Balochistan include continuing the façade of democracy in the province, plunder local natural resources without any legal oversight and to politically confront the Baloch insurgency. Similarly in Karachi, efforts continue under the watch of Sindh Governor, Kamran Tessori, to unite various factions of the MQM, including Bahadurabad, Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), and Farooq Sattar group. Tessori is a member of MQM-Pakistan (MQM-P). PSP Chairman Syed Mustafa Kamal announced on January 12 that his party would join MQM- P and Sattar group. However, the pro-Altaf Hussain London faction is likely to be excluded from this effort. Undoubtedly, the ongoing political manoeuvring in Karachi and the reunification of different MQM factions has the military’s approval.
This development will create serious political tensions between the reunited MQM and PPP over Karachi politics. Consequently, the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement government in Islamabad may not survive for long considering MQM and PPP are part of the coalition. It appears that promises made by former army chief General (Retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa to disengage the military from politics have not been fulfilled. It is unrealistic to expect the security establishment to completely withdraw from the political sphere in Pakistan. Nevertheless, some reports initially suggested that the new Army chief General Syed Asim Munir may avoid interfering in politics and allow political parties to handle matters on their own. However, recent developments suggest that the Army remains deeply involved in political engineering as general elections can take place soon in Pakistan. In conclusion, the ongoing military establishment-led political manoeuvring will further exacerbate political instability in Pakistan.