Imran Khan: Is the Optimism justified? Optimism on Pakistan, specially of some including New York Times, Has Repeatedly Turned Sour in Past

 

The New York Times recently wrote an extremely optimistic piece on Prime Minister elect Imran Khan.The NYT Editorial referred to Mr Khan as “A New Batsman for Pakistan” and asserted that he had led “his political party to an equally impressive victory in Pakistan’s national elections.”

The NYT opined that Pakistan had “reached a turning point that could possibly alter its dysfunctional trajectory.” Noting that Imran Khan brings “more star power and mystique than any recent Pakistani leader and perhaps a better chance to change the country’s narrative” the NYT stated that he “could use his fame and charisma to reset Pakistan’s troubled relations with the West.” While admitting that the elections were “widely considered tainted” the NYT admitted that “many parts of the country are safer today than they were a few years ago” and that Imran would help the country because “he’ll visit foreign capitals and business titans, seeking help to solve Pakistan’s dire debt crisis and bring in investors.”

The NYT is a rare semi-optimistic Opinion piece on Imran Khan but then the NYT also wrote this glowing praise of Nawaz Sharif’s victory in 2013. Then NYT had spoken of Sharif “once a political exile deposed by the military” returning to “the cusp of power” and “taking a commanding lead in a parliamentary election in which Pakistanis braved Taliban intimidation to cast ballots with historic prospects for the country’s democracy.” Further, the Times noted a “record turnout in several cities, incited by an energized political campaign.” Speaking about “vibrancy of Pakistani politics” and that these elections “evoked a rare sense of enthusiasm for politics in Pakistan.”

In 2008 the New York Times spoke about the “crushing defeat” sustained by former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s party by the Pakistani electorate, the “resounding victory of the two parties [PPP and PMLN]” and “signaled a change in direction after eight years of military rule.”

Imran Khan has a huge burden to overcome as he is taking over power amidst allegations of rigging and being viewed as the sponsored ‘favorite’ of Pakistan’s military intelligence establishment.

Every few years both Pakistanis and the international community raises its hopes and expectations about Pakistan and these hopes are dashed. Why is it that this optimism is dashed every time?

Pakistanis in general and their sympathizers outside need to examine this. Maybe the reason is there is a naïve belief that change in the Chief Executive is all that Pakistan needs to rectify its problems and challenges. That the only thing lying between a prosperous Pakistan is a corrupt politician and once you bring in someone new things will change automatically.

But maybe something else is wrong!

For example, why cannot the military retreat from politics and let the politicians make decisions?

Also, why is it that every civilian politician is accused and removed from power on the grounds of corruption?

Why cannot Pakistan have normal relations with all its neighbors: India, Afghanistan and even Iran?

If Imran Khan can address these fundamental questions then Pakistan will come out in a better place.

If, however, Imran cannot address these questions then there will only be a re-run of the past.

The World Notices Pakistan’s Election Engineering: Imran Khan’s ‘Victory’ Lacks Credibility

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pakistan’s third successive elections since 2008 are also being viewed as Pakistan’s dirtiest ever with both the European Union’s Observation Mission and the United States Department of State criticizing the entire process.
According to the EU Mission, Pakistan’s 2018 elections were marred by “allegations of interference” by the military, “curtailment on freedom of expression,” “systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party,” “emergence of extremist parties” in politics, and that “security personnel” were carrying on their own “parallel tabulation” during the entire electoral process.
The United States Department of State too expressed concern about the violent electoral process and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s “concerns about flaws in the pre-voting electoral process, as expressed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. These included constraints placed on freedoms of expression and association during the campaign period that were at odds with Pakistani authorities’ stated goal of a fully fair and transparent election.”
According to the EU Election Observation Mission Report, the elections “took place against a background of allegations of interference in the electoral process by the military-led establishment and the role of the judiciary as a political actor. Media outlets and journalists suffer from severe restrictions and curtailment on freedom of expression, which has resulted in extraordinary levels of self-censorship.”
 
Further, “A number of violent attacks, targeting political parties, party leaders, candidates and election officials, affected the campaign environment. Most interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates. The electorally sensitive timing, as well as the content of decisions of courts investigating or adjudicating on matters related to high-profile Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) candidates, were perceived by several stakeholders as an indication of the politicisation of the judiciary. These cases reshaped the political environment ahead of the elections. Of further concern was the emergence of extremist parties with affiliations either to terrorist groups, or individuals linked to organisations that have used, incited or advocated violence.”
 
Furthermore, “EU observers noted the presence of security personnel inside and outside the polling stations in the polling stations observed. At times, they checked voter ID cards and directed voters to the right queue. During counting, they recorded and transmitted the results, giving the impression of an ongoing parallel tabulation.” The detailed report of the EU Mission can be read here.
The U.S. State Department echoed the conclusions of the European Union Election Observation Mission that “while there were positive changes to the legal framework for elections in Pakistan, these were overshadowed by restrictions on freedom of expression and unequal campaign opportunities.”
 
The short statement reaffirmed the US desire to “encourage a broadening of opportunities for political participation for all Pakistanis, and for the further strengthening of legitimate, democratic institutions” and also expressed “deep reservations over the participation of terrorist-affiliated individuals in the elections.”

 

‘A Rigged Election does not confer a mandate’

In Pakistan’s third elections since 2018, there have been widespread complaints by political parties, civil society and international media of rigging on a large scale. All day long there were reports of violence, allegations of pre-poll manipulation and the arrangements put in place by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

 

Both PML-N and the PPP “said their monitors in many voting centers had not received the official notifications of the precinct’s results, but instead got hand-written tallies that they could not verify. “It is a sheer rigging. The way the people’s mandate has blatantly been insulted, it is intolerable,” Shehbaz told a news conference as the counting continued. “We totally reject this result,” he said. “It is a big shock to Pakistan’s democratic process.” The PPP also complained that its polling agents were asked to leave during the vote count in a number of voting centers.

“This is the warning bell of a serious threat,” said PPP senator Sherry Rehman. “This whole election could be null and void, and we don’t want this.”

 

The Election Commission of Pakistan, however, delayed announcing the final results stating  “counting had been delayed by technical failures in an electronic reporting system and the tallying was now being conducted manually. The results had been due by 2 a.m. (2100 GMT). “There’s no conspiracy, nor any pressure in delay of the results. The delay is being caused because the result transmission system has collapsed,” Yaqoob said. Chief Election Commissioner Sardar Mohammad Raza later defended the process after Sharif’s party and at least four others contesting the elections alleged the counting was manipulated. “These elections were 100 percent transparent and fair,” Raza said. “There is no stain. Why don’t you think the five political parties might be wrong?”

 

The Guardian in its report titled “Widespread allegations of election rigging,” pointed out that three major Pakistani parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan People’s Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement, have all “alleged voting irregularities, including that polling agents were not allowed into polling stations and voters were not given forms on time. The run-up to the election has also been plagued by widespread allegations that the powerful military was working behind the scenes to skew the contest in cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s favour. His main rival Nawaz Sharif, who was jailed on corruption charges this month, has long had tense relations with the military and accuses the military of orchestrating his conviction.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) leader Faisal Sabzwari said election officers aren’t providing certified election results and have thrown polling agents out during ballot counts.”

 

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in a statement noted: “that the ECP’s performance leaves much to be desired. While the latter has carried out its clerical functions reasonably well, the political content of its work has fallen short of expectations. Polling schemes were poorly rationalized, with many voters in the Lahore Cantonment, for instance, indicating they did not know where to go to vote. Numerous observers have also reported that many polling stations were clustered together, but too small to cater to the number of voters. As a result, the polling process remained sluggish through the day. This, compounded with ill trained staff in many cases, meant that many people who reached their polling station in time were compelled to queue outside the premises for want of space, but were not let in to cast their vote.

 

The HRCP also took “received complaints through the day that, in many areas, women were not allowed to vote: HRCP hopes that legal action is taken against any such people who denied women their right to vote. The Commission also notes that, in some places, polling staff appeared to be biased toward a certain party, with voters who had received slips from another party’s stall being turned back on flimsy grounds. In at least one instance, women voters reported being asked whom they intended to vote for. Such instances are serious contraventions of the law and HRCP hopes that these will be promptly and transparently addressed.”

Harsh Facts about Curbs on Freedom of Expression in Pakistan

Pakistan ranks high on the list of countries where journalists are killed, activists kidnapped and tortured and freedom of speech censored. Pakistan’s leading human rights organization, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) just released its fact-finding report on the curbs on freedom of expression inside Pakistan.
 
The report looked at the following issues:
 
“Interviews carried out independently by HRCP with distributors in Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh corroborate allegations by Dawn that disruptions and intermittent closures in commercial establishments and residential areas associated with the military have had a serious impact on business. Following the publication of an interview with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on 12 May 2018, sales agents allege that the distribution of Dawn has been disrupted daily in at least 20 targeted cities and towns – specifically in cantonment areas and army offices and schools. Hawkers report being subjected to continual harassment, threats and physical coercion by military personnel while attempting to deliver copies of Dawn to regular subscribers. At least two distributors confirm that they were asked to provide information on their subscribers.
This has been accompanied by the withdrawal or suspension of advertisements: Dawn reports that, since October 2016, it has suffered a complete ban on advertising from organizations falling under the domain of the ISPR, including DHA and other commercial establishments.”
 
“HRCP has documented at least three instances in which cable operators in Punjab and GB say they were compelled to take certain channels off air. In each case, they received a telephone call from persons identifying themselves as state or intelligence agency officials, warning them to ‘remove’ Geo TV from the list of channels being transmitted or to move it to the very end, thereby making it less accessible. All respondents say they had no choice but to comply for fear their business would be closed down or attacked. As far as the television channel management is concerned, the prevailing uncertainty surrounding their ability to broadcast means they stand to lose long-term advertising contracts. At least two respondents confirmed that this has affected their financial stability and ability to pay salaries on time. The general perception among smaller TV channels is that, if a media house as prominent as Geo TV can be targeted in the form of disruptions to transmission – with obvious implications for how this affects their business and compels them to engage in what one respondent termed ‘cost reduction exercises’ – then they, too, have little choice but to fall in line.”
 
“The systematic curtailment of freedom of expression in the form of press advice, intimidation and harassment, reportedly by state or intelligence agencies, has left many journalists and their management too vulnerable to resist. Reprisals have taken ominous forms, including abduction and assault in several instances.”
 
“Verbal press advice, received either on the telephone or during a visit, usually pertains to what should not be published or broadcast. HRCP’s interviews reveal that the most commonly tabooed subjects are: missing persons, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), Baloch separatists and rights activists such as Mama Qadeer, the Panama trial and NAB references, the disqualification and arrest of Nawaz Sharif, references to any questionable decisions by the judiciary, allegations of judicial overreach and questions about the armed forces. At least two respondents report having been warned that news transmissions must use the words ‘criminal’ or ‘convicted’ – rather than ‘former Prime Minister’ – to identify Nawaz Sharif. Other topics unpopular with the establishment, at least three respondents have claimed, include criticism of the PTI. Another reportedly common piece of press advice to the broadcast media is that the channel should give greater coverage to PTI rallies and only minimal coverage to other parties’ events. Other issues raised over what one respondent termed ‘a friendly cup of tea’ – the standard euphemism applied to summons from state agencies – include questions pertaining to coverage of national security issues, editorial policies and even reporters’ sources.
Respondents in both the print and broadcast media say that the advice may be issued by civil bureaucrats, the office of the DG Press and Information or directly by the ISPR, often relayed through the management. At least four television or radio journalists report that, in addition to communicating directly with ‘errant’ journalists, state or intelligence agencies tend to approach channel or newspaper owners directly, threatening their channel/publication or parent business with NAB or FIA cases or suspension of advertisements unless they agree to abide by certain conditions. Many print and broadcast journalists say that a common consequence of ‘disobeying’ instructions is vicious character assassinations through anonymous social media accounts and social networking platforms that go so far as to incite violence against mediapersons – and in the case of women, rape threats. In at least two cases, respondents in the print media say they were called in for questioning by state or intelligence agencies and interrogated about international funding and contact with separatists. One senior anchorperson claims that ‘technical faults’ are often cited by the management as a reason for not broadcasting a program on ‘sensitive’ subjects. One of the biggest problems, he says, is that anchors are not taken into confidence by the management as to what they can or cannot say on air. He also alleges that the management sends the material they have edited out of his programs to the military establishment to remain in the latter’s ‘good books’. This, he says, simply makes him more vulnerable. He sees this as a double game: the establishment, too, might show an anchor a recording of material the management has edited out as ‘evidence’ of the latter’s ‘insincerity’, creating divisions between employees and management. At least seven editors and reporters in GB have testified to receiving press advice and being threatened with dire consequences – including threats of arrest, violence or death – if they do not comply. Most say they are warned against giving coverage to nationalists and reporting negatively about state institutions and government departments. In one extreme case, an editor and publisher who did not comply, despite being offered bribes and his life threatened five times, was accused of being on the payroll of foreign spy agencies. A case was registered against him under the Terrorism Act and he was arrested. He remains in prison. Overall, continuing intimidation and the perceived need to self-censor has severely hampered objective journalism. It has also taken a toll on members of staff, some of whom have refused to work or left. This has left particularly the newspapers beleaguered, with threats also emanating from religious radicals, separatists and officials of nationalist or political parties if news on their activities is not published.”
 
“Several respondents specified that the quid pro quo for strictly following directions is the promise of access to events and personalities. However, senior representatives of the establishment, they claim, often offer bribes of foreign travel, allotment of plots and other privileges, professional advancement, cash bribes, promises of advertisement revenue and government jobs.”
 
“At least five respondents in Lahore and one in Islamabad felt that journalists’ trade unions were too splintered to speak with one voice against such instances of intimidation and harassment. Many had been either compromised or were too afraid to take a strong stand, even going so far, said one respondent, as to ‘blame the victim’.”
“Press advice to social media users, especially those critical of state policies, has also increased. Any criticism of the policies of the military or discussions of extremist violence attracts the most press advice. Respondents testified to receiving advice from the ISPR and from civil agencies such as the FIA, which, they allege, has begun to call social media users for ‘hearings’ relating to their online activity, albeit with no supporting official orders. It is not uncommon to receive direct requests to delete specific tweets and, in one respondent’s case, to be asked to report ‘objectionable’ tweets. In January 2018, one respondent escaped an abduction attempt during which his travel documents, laptop and phone were taken. He went into exile soon after. Subsequently, he set up a website ‘Safe Newsrooms’ to enable whistle-blowers to unmask censorship, but the website was blocked soon after. Another respondent says she was detained for one night in Lahore a day before the PTM rally in April 2018. She alleges that she was hit with the butt of a gun and pushed so that her head hit the wall. She was called a traitor and then put in solitary confinement overnight at the Counter Terrorism Department headquarters in Lahore. Subsequently, her computer was attacked with malware through a video link sent to her three days before the PTM rally in Karachi in May 2018 and her internet data blocked for a month during the same period.”
 
The HRCP issued a list of recommendations addressed to the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan and all state institutions to:
“- Take due notice of the complaints it has presented
– Take appropriate steps to prohibit and prevent unauthorized, illegal and unlawful interference with freedom of expression in the country
– Protect the right of television channel and news publication owners to function with dignity and in peace.
– There should be no interference in the sale and distribution of any newspaper, nor should any TV channels be deliberately displaced.
– The system of issuing ‘press advice’ or press-advice-like ‘instructions’ on the part of state agencies must cease immediately.
– All complaints of this nature should be redressed promptly.
– Complete and effective information commissions are set up in each province to implement the state’s obligations under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017.”

Dirtiest election in Pakistan’s history?

Are these the dirtiest elections in Pakistan’s history or is the world conspiring against Pakistan? If one were to believe international media, Pakistani analysts and even the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan then yes. On the other hand, if one were to go solely according to the press conferences and statements of the state apparatus then all is well.
 
For the last few days every single international media outlet has spoken about these being Pakistan’s dirtiest elections.
 
According to The Guardian, the campaign season has been “marred by allegations of military interference,” deadly violence and allowing extremist and sectarian groups and leaders to run for elections.
 
According to The New York Times the deep state has “cast a shadow” on Pakistan’s elections through its “soft coup,” censorship and intimidation tactics. “That military campaign has been likened by some candidates to a soft coup, and has included sidelining candidates who are out of the military’s favor, censoring major news outlets and persecuting peaceful political movements.
 
According to the NYT, the reason for Nawaz Sharif’s ouster and the reason why the military is trying to ensure his party does not win many seats in the upcoming elections is: “As prime minister, Mr. Sharif ran afoul of the military early on by trying to assert control over foreign and defense policy, which is seen as the army’s domain. He also tried to improve ties with India, Pakistan’s archrival, and opposed the military’s embrace of terrorist groups, members of his party say.”
 
The NYT quoted analyst and author Ahmad Rashid: “The question the whole nation is asking is what does the army want and why this level of interference? For the first time, not just the elite, but the public is now aware of the army’s major role. It’s now talked about at the village level.”