Pakistan’s Post-Election Challenges

By Mansoor Ahmad Wazir.

With the grace of Allah Almighty and the unwavering support and unflinching efforts by Pakistani polity, the country has witnessed second democratic civilian to civilian transitions very successfully. The state institutions, especially the armed forces, played vital role in the conduct of general elections 2018. As a matter of fact, the country’s next government will face a range of challenges — including a foundering economy, growing military influence, and the fraught U.S.- Pakistan relationship.

What is in store for the PTI-led govt in the center?

Reply by a panel of CSS students

As a panel of the students of CSS preparation, consisting of Sanat, Nadeem, Shahid Iqbal and Mansoor Ahmad, Pakistan’s next government faces growing fears of a balance of payments crisis, with speculation mounting it will have to seek its second IMF bailout in five years.

The central bank is burning through foreign reserves and devaluing the rupee, including another five-percent dive this week, in a bid to bridge a widening trade deficit.

Pakistan, which has long relied heavily on imports, increased its procurement of materials to help build a string of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects after inking a multi-billion dollar investment package with Beijing — the terms of which are opaque, leading to fears over how Islamabad will pay for it.
The economy has also been stung by higher oil prices.

Meanwhile, meagre exports such as textiles have taken a hit from cheaper Chinese-produced goods, while foreign remittances have also slowed.

The winners of the election will have “limited time” to act, Fitch ratings agency warned earlier this month. Official estimates show that by 2025 the country will be facing an “absolute scarcity” of water, with less than 500 cubic metres available per person — just one third of the water available in parched Somalia, according to the UN. Pakistan has massive Himalayan glaciers, rivers, monsoon rains and floods — but just three major water storage basins, compared with more than a thousand in South Africa or Canada. As such, surplus water is quickly lost.

Sanat: What does this election mean for Pakistan’s democracy?

Mansoor Ahmad: This is a schizophrenic moment for Pakistan’s democracy. On the one hand, Pakistan has completed 10 years of uninterrupted democratic rule and the second transition from one democratic government to another; this is history in the making. It is also substantively important given the conventional wisdom that if you let the democratic process continue, the political system will weed out the bad and ugly in favor of the clean and efficient.

Sanat: How did the corruption conviction of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), influence the election campaign?

Mansoor Ahmad: The fallout from Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification from office in April 2017 in a court case stemming from allegations of undeclared business and family real estate assets, and his conviction and sentencing to jail earlier this month, has driven Pakistani political dynamics for the past year and set the tenor for the election campaign. Deprived of its eponymous party chief as a headliner, the PML-N struggled to mobilize sizeable crowds or supporters for its campaign. Beginning earlier this spring and accelerating in the run-up to the polls, the party also faced multiple defections of its former legislators to the PTI and other parties, particularly in south Punjab and in Balochistan.

Sharif, now imprisoned on a 10-year sentence, still faces multiple corruption charges, as does his daughter Maryam Nawaz and his brother former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, who officially leads the party. The question of when and who the laws are applied to in Pakistan is generally more instructive than the content of the law itself, and for both voters and candidates, Sharif’s conviction was likely interpreted as a signal of the likely election outcome, driving either defections or suppressing turnout.

Sanat: How has violence impacted the electoral process?

Mansoor Ahmad: Not to trivialize the implications of violence, but the truth is that it has had a fringe influence even though there have been major terrorist attacks that have successfully targeted political candidates. Pakistani people have gone through so much violence over the past decade that they are largely desensitized to sporadic episodes of terrorism. For instance, most people I have talked to use the last elections in 2013 as the benchmark and rightly argue that the fear factor due to violence in this election was much lower. Also, violence this time round wasn’t as blatantly targeted against left-leaning parties as it was in 2013 and thus there isn’t as much of a case to be made in terms of biasing the election outcomes.

Sanat: What role did Pakistan’s powerful military play in the elections?

Mansoor Ahmad: The Pakistani military is a dominant force in the country, both in terms of setting internal and external security policy priorities, and in shaping domestic politics and as a player in the economy. After ruling the country for about half its independent history, the military has not played an overt executive role since the departure of then-president and former chief of army staff Pervez Musharraf in 2009, but it continues to play a substantial role behind the scenes.

The army deployed more than 370,000 soldiers to provide security at polling stations around the country during these elections—more than five times the amount it deployed during the last national elections in 2013. The army also assisted in the national census in the spring of 2017 that was used as a basis for drawing new constituency boundaries at the start of this year.

Beyond this substantial role in the administration of the elections, Pakistani politicians—most prominently but not exclusively from the PML-N—accused the military of intervening behind the scenes to coerce their candidates into defecting from the party or otherwise reduce their campaign activity. In the week prior to the election, an Islamabad High Court judge accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the military’s intelligence agency, of intervening in judicial proceedings to delay appeals by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif against his conviction. Sharif had earlier accused the military of seeking to oust his government due to civil-military tensions over control of Pakistan’s approach toward its neighbors India and Afghanistan.

Sanat: What ramifications could the elections have for U.S.-Pakistani relations?

Mansoor Ahmad: Regardless of the exact outcome, the elections are liable to complicate already-strained U.S. relations with Pakistan. Although civilian politicians have had limited influence over the country’s security and foreign policy—where the military and civil service bureaucracy have forcefully asserted their autonomy and control —potential incoming prime minister Imran Khan has been a vocal opponent of U.S. policies toward the region in the past, and could clash with a Trump administration that has already shown a willingness to take a hard line on Pakistan. In an initial victory speech on Thursday, Khan offered conciliatory remarks toward the U.S. and regional neighbors, however.

Although provisional results at this stage suggest that the PTI will likely be able to form a stable ruling coalition together with a few smaller parties, the PML-N and other opposition parties have alleged fraud and mismanagement of the results, and their response to the elections remains to be seen. A highly contested outcome could also disrupt the PTI’s ability to govern effectively, should the opposition launch sustained protest of the sort mounted by the PTI against the PML-N after the 2013 elections.

U.S. officials have been largely noncommittal during the pre-election period, and given the stakes of regional security concerns are likely to seek to establish a working relationship with whichever party comes to power. But the next government will face substantial challenges—including deteriorating foreign currency reserves that may necessitate a new International Monetary Fund bailout at the outset of its tenure—that a divided or weakened government may have trouble resolving.On the other hand, you’ve got all sorts of allegations of pre-poll rigging and manipulation that seem awfully similar to the Pakistan of the 1990s when no elected government was allowed to complete its five-year tenure courtesy of collusion between the all-powerful military and the presidents of the time, who had the constitutional powers (instituted during military rule in the 1980s) to dismiss governments prematurely. It is quite striking how openly allegations of manipulation have been hurled at the military and judiciary in the run up to this election. In that sense, the situation signifies a regression, not progression.

According to  Shahid Khan, political initiative will be essential to building infrastructure to reverse the course of the impending crisis. There is also little in the way of education on water conservation. Pakistan has spent roughly half its nearly 71-year history under military rule, and the imbalance of power in civil-military relations has long been seen as an impediment to democracy and progress. Hope surged in 2013 as the country moved through its first ever democratic transition of power. But since then experts have warned of a “creeping coup” fuelled by tensions between the generals and the government of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, largely attributed to his desire to assert civilian supremacy and seek warmer relations with arch-rival India.

About Author:

Mansoor Ahmad Wazir  belongs to Islamabad and specializes in Business studies. He has availed himself of the FULL BRIGHTS, USA, and is aspirant to CSS.He contributes to The Russian Times, Moscow. He can be reached at mansoorwazirpk@gmail.com

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