Pakistan’s elections are already underway; some three months ahead of schedule. And are being contested by the big three. Namely, the ruling civilian leadership, the military establishment and the US. Everything else, at this stage, is but a sideshow.
Washington, for now, may or may not have the upper hand. The State Department this week placed sanctions on the Milli Muslim League (MML) — designating it and its leadership “terrorists”. A day later, Pakistan’s man at the Interior confirmed that the government would be contesting the ECP move to allow the MML to register ahead of this summer’s polls.
Truth be told, this all seems a bit rushed. Meaning that with the Army officially in the barracks, Pakistan’s political players had more than a little time to plan for the country’s second-ever transfer of civilian power. Indeed, as the old saying goes: don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today. Yet this is exactly what the ruling regime and the opposition have done.
After all, the latter collectively contested on equal footing two by-elections in which the MML participated; a shortcut to legitimisation if ever there was one. All of which rather dilutes PMLN efforts over the last year to have the courts keep under house arrest Hafiz Saeed; the man whom the MML describes as its ideological leader. Even the presidential promulgation that saw the former Lashkar-e-Taiba strongman accorded terrorist status under Pakistani law was initiated in haste. For it came just days ahead of the now infamous FATF meeting.
The point is that while all these civilian machinations should be supported — think of how much more effective they could have been had then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not missed the proverbial boat. Meaning that by keeping shtum about the military’s militant mainstreaming project for a good one and a half years — he effectively allowed the latter to leak the news and claim ownership of the narrative. The PMLN has been on the back foot ever since.
Pakistan’s security apparatus is doing its best to sell the venture as a means of moderating militants by encouraging them to down arms and take up ballots. Yet those who had reportedly signed up for this, like Hafiz Saeed and Fazlur Rehman Khalil, are best known for anti-India proxy warfare in Kashmir. All of which suggests the endgame is to integrate jihadists into the political process to keep the region at the forefront of national policy and under khaki control. Indeed, following Trump Town’s Jerusalem shuffle — the COAS was quick to link the suffering of the Kashmiris to that of the Palestinians. Yet Kashmir is not Palestine. The former is a disputed territory. Whereas the latter represents the largest illegal land grab in contemporary history.
If the military establishment truly wants to keep Kashmir at the front of international consciousness it would do well to strengthen the civilian hand. For by attempting to tie the fate of the Kashmiri people to terrorist outfits only serves to silence global voices that might otherwise have been raised against Indian human rights abuses in the area.
In short, Pakistan cannot afford to become an international pariah once more. It has been there and done that and no longer wants the t-shirt. *