Pakistan's elections ignite "Arab Spring" similarities

Pakistan's establishment did everything possible to deny a chance to former Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi's party to contest the elections. Yet, its candidates fighting as independents, emerged victorious. Is it another Arab Spring?

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Recent events in Pakistan politics have unfolded like a high-stakes cricket match, with Imran Khan's independents dealing a huge blow to the entrenched powers, the ruling coalition and the military. However, beneath the surface lies a complex narrative of power struggles, economic instability, and institutional erosion similar to the Arab Spring that brought many dictatorships down in the Middle East.

There are various reasons for the things that have unfolded in the last few days, and the future will bring up many challenges before whoever comes to power, especially the politically active powerful military of the country.

Imran Khan, once hailed as a beacon of hope, now finds himself languishing behind bars, sentenced to 24 years on charges of leaking state secrets. His political career had hit a roadblock, with the most significant setback being his incarceration due to the cipher case. This case revolves around the unauthorized disclosure of a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan's ambassador in Washington in 2022. Imran Khan, along with Shah Mahmoud Qureishi, faced indictment by a Pakistani court on October 23, 2023.

His party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), once a formidable force, has been dismantled, barred from participating in elections, and subjected to draconian measures. Yet, despite the odds stacked against them, Imran Khan's supporters have rallied behind their leader, emerging as a potent force in the recent elections.

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Pakistan's long-standing power broker, the military, faces a crisis of legitimacy. Economic woes, including skyrocketing inflation, soaring unemployment, and a looming debt crisis, have eroded public trust in both civilian and military leadership. The military's failure to address these pressing issues has sowed seeds of discontent, undermining its once unassailable authority.

The election results, shrouded in controversy and allegations of rigging, underscore the deepening rift between the military and the populace (awaam). The brazen attacks on military installations, (attack on the Pakistan Army headquarters in Rawalpindi on May 9 last year), a stark departure from the status quo, have shattered the aura of invincibility surrounding the armed forces. In a country where prestige is paramount, this humiliation reverberates far beyond the physical realm, signalling a tectonic shift in power dynamics.

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Faced with dwindling options, the military finds itself at a crossroads. The prospect of installing Nawaz Sharif, a familiar face albeit with a tarnished legacy, as the figurehead of a coalition government looms large. Yet, such a move risks further delegitimizing the electoral process, inviting accusations of manipulation and coercion.

Alternatively, coercing Imran Khan's erstwhile allies into joining a preordained coalition with a backing of the all-powerful Army could spark mass protests, plunging the nation into deeper turmoil. A precarious third option, offering Khan a semblance of compliance in exchange for his acquiescence, hangs in the balance, fraught with uncertainty and peril.

Regardless of the military's machinations, one thing remains clear and that is the country staring at an unavoidable chaos. With economic woes exacerbating societal fissures and external pressures mounting, the road ahead appears fraught with peril. As Pakistan grapples with its existential crisis, the specter of regional interference looms large, threatening to further destabilize an already volatile situation.

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In the midst of this turmoil, Imran Khan's defiance has become both his rallying cry and his downfall. Castigated by the military establishment and vilified by the judiciary, Khan's vision of a reinvigorated Pakistan lies in tatters. Yet, his steadfast resolve has galvanized a new generation of leaders, determined to challenge the status quo and usher in a new era of accountability and transparency.

Pakistan's political leaders have often prioritized power over genuine democratic principles, perpetuating a cycle of instability and corruption. As Pakistan grapples with its internal struggles, regional dynamics further complicate the situation, with frozen ties with India and tensions with neighboring Afghanistan and Iran. The recent military clash with Iran amid the heightened tension in the Middle East due to the Gaza war has further complicated the situation.

Pakistan's institutional framework is also deficient, setting the stage for a government to be formed based on elections that fall short of being free and fair. The apparent lack of public endorsement for the winning parties selected under these circumstances may lead to policy gridlock.

A government with a questionable mandate and limited political leverage is expected to prioritize self-preservation and the management of public sentiment over enacting substantive reforms.

As the dust settles on Pakistan's tumultuous political landscape, one thing remains certain: the road to redemption will be long and arduous. Whether Pakistan emerges from this crucible stronger and more resilient remains to be seen. The relationship between the military and the "awaam" amid the allegations of the "stolen mandate" will keep bringing the people on roads very often. But one thing is clear: the echoes of Imran Khan's defiance will reverberate through the annals of history, shaping the destiny of a nation in flux.