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Any effort to undermine Imran Khan’s mandate will be met with instability.

Anarchy in Pakistan

The February 8 elections in Pakistan were not conducted on an even playing field. Arguably the most well-liked politician, former prime minister Imran Khan, has been incarcerated since May 2023, spending time for many convictions. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), his party, was forced to field independent candidates as it was not allowed to use its emblem on the vote paper. A large number of its leaders were also imprisoned or fugitives, while still more were compelled to leave politics or join rival political parties. In the lead-up to the elections, Pakistan witnessed a methodical attempt by influential groups to undermine Mr. Khan’s political platform. Once the enemy’s adversary, Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif conducted his party’s campaign with the establishment’s blessings after returning from exile in London. Voters, however, proved the generals incorrect if they believed that these actions would eliminate the PTI’s political clout and propel their choices to power. Of the 265 seats, 101 were won by independents (93 were won by candidates with ties to the PTI); the PML-N obtained 75 seats, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) garnered 54, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, based in Karachi, grabbed 17. A government needs 134 seats to be formed.

This implies that the PTI, whose independent candidates comprise the largest bloc, will not be able to constitute the governing body going forward. After it became clear that no bloc possessed an absolute majority, Nawaz Sharif urged all parties—except the PTI—to establish a unity government. After Mr. Sharif’s appeal was supported by Army Chief Gen. Asim Munir, the PML-N and the PPP came to an agreement in principle “to work together for political stability.” All of these events suggest that political manoeuvring is being done to form a unity government that would prevent Mr. Khan and the PTI from gaining power. There may also be pressure on the independents to join the coalition parties. Calls for public protests by the PTI, which has already accused vote violations, bring to mind the widespread unrest that followed Mr. Khan’s incarceration in May 2023.

The election results have highlighted Mr. Khan’s popularity and the public’s resentment of the establishment, despite the military’s desire to ignore his challenge and use the democratic process to construct a new political reality. The generals should make peace with Mr. Khan and hope for the unlikely event of the results taking precedence in order to find a long-term solution. Unresolved concerns include popular anger and suspicion as political parties that finished second and third proceed with their goals with approval from the establishment. Pakistan could experience yet another wave of unrest and anarchy in response to the PTI’s challenge from the streets.

Dr. Abhishek Verma

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