As Pakistan heads to elections, military continues firm control over political landscape

With elections on the horizon in Pakistan, the military’s enduring influence remains a dominant force in shaping the country’s political trajectory. The impending polls underscore the persistent grip the military holds over the political landscape.

In the lead-up to Pakistan’s impending general elections on February 8, the Human Rights Commission of the country has raised alarming concerns about potential “pre-poll rigging” and the overt manipulation of the electoral process. The nation, known for its history of electoral engineering, faces heightened apprehensions about the fairness of these elections, with the military playing a pivotal role as a perennial “kingmaker.”

Over the past three decades, the powerful military establishment in Pakistan has consistently exerted significant influence, even during periods when it officially wasn’t in power. Frequent coups d’état, including those led by Generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq, and Pervez Musharraf, underscore the military’s deep-rooted involvement in shaping the nation’s political landscape.

Despite not holding official power, the military’s interference extends to political engineering, influencing the rise and fall of specific political parties. Former army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa openly acknowledged the military’s pivotal role in facilitating the ascent of Prime Minister Imran Khan, following the removal of Nawaz Sharif.

The military’s influence permeates all aspects of Pakistani politics and security matters, actively restricting the powers of elected officials who may challenge its prevailing interests. The recent history of Nawaz Sharif exemplifies this, as his attempts to pursue independent foreign and security policies led to his eventual removal from office.

In the aftermath of Sharif’s ouster, Imran Khan, initially supported by the military, found himself at odds with them over key decisions, resulting in his orchestrated removal from office in April 2022. Khan’s subsequent criticism of the military led to measures taken to disqualify him from running in the upcoming elections, including multiple corruption charges.

The military’s actions, including coercing defections from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, blocking nominations, and restricting online activities, underscore the challenges to democracy and political diversity in Pakistan.

In a surprising turn, the military has paved the way for Nawaz Sharif’s return to the political arena by clearing all legal cases against him. This strategic move positions Sharif as the favoured candidate against Khan, highlighting the military’s apparent objective to sideline Khan and ensure Sharif aligns with military interests.

Against the backdrop of regional tensions, security challenges, and economic difficulties, sustained political stability in Pakistan becomes paramount. However, achieving this goal necessitates curbing military interference and upholding democratic principles.