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Selection Before Elections

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Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
In late 2015, key PML(N) figures, including Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, former Governor Sindh Mr. Zubair, Daniyal Aziz, and Mr. Tallal, a prominent associate of the Incharge of PML(N)’s social media cell, convened in a critical meeting. They expressed deep concerns over the diminishing visibility and influence of the PML(N) leadership, including the Prime Minister, across media platforms and governance arenas. This meeting, highlighted a sense of urgency and helplessness in countering the narrative that was constricting their political space. The discussion underscored the challenges they faced in maintaining their presence and authority within the public sphere and governance structures, signaling a significant moment of introspection and strategizing within the party ranks.

During a pivotal period in late 2015, the PML(N) leadership faced a stark realization that their tenure in power was nearing an end and their successor was being groomed. The systematic campaign to marginalize PML(N) was lodged culminating in the dramatic ousting of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The campaign extended beyond legal actions to include media bans and a broad range of measures aimed at erasing PML(N)’s political footprint. This orchestrated effort not only targeted Nawaz Sharif with convictions and lifetime disqualification, his daughter who never held a public office was jailed, but also ensnared his allies, signaling a concerted effort to reshape the country’s political landscape by sidelining a once-dominant party.

Following the ousting of PTI in 2022, the legal cases against numerous PML(N) figures began to collapse with astonishing rapidity, raising questions about the initial validity or motivations behind these charges. Observers were left to ponder whether these cases were inherently flawed, perhaps motivated by political vendettas, or if their rapid dismissal was itself a departure from legal propriety. This situation highlighted a dilemma regarding the judiciary’s effectiveness, especially when influential interests are at stake.

Imran Khan’s political saga unfolded like a meticulously plotted hunt, reminiscent of the enthralling tales of yore. Strategically cornered, Khan found himself ensnared, leading to his incarceration. The legal onslaught against him is staggering, with a plethora of cases culminating in convictions that have led to substantial prison sentences in the Cypher and Toshakhana cases while the verdict against alleged illegal Nikah with Bushra Bibi is about to be announced adding another layer to his already full plate.

This strategy mirrors the treatment previously meted out to PML(N) and its affiliates, emphasizing a pattern of political retribution. Notably, Khan’s wife, Bushra Bibi, also faced constraints, despite her non-political role, similar to Maryam Nawaz’s predicament. The decision to confine her to their Bani Gala residence, effectively transforming it into a ‘sub-jail,’ has sparked controversy, with official denials adding layers of intrigue. The circumstances surrounding Bushra Bibi’s house arrest, described by her lawyer, paint a picture of overt control and isolation, highlighting the intense scrutiny and pressure faced by Khan’s family.

To ensure a favorable electoral landscape for PML(N), PTI has been significantly fragmented. The party faces numerous challenges: loss of its iconic election symbols, the incarceration of its chairman, leaders either imprisoned or in hiding, workers facing intimidation, and public assemblies being curtailed or forcefully disbanded. PTI’s campaign efforts are hamstrung by restrictions on media access and other forms of electoral campaigning.

Despite these hurdles, PTI perseveres, aware of the unpredictable nature of Pakistan’s political climate, where democratic processes are seldom left to their own devices. The prevailing political environment in Pakistan is characterized by a tightly controlled system where the parliament, government, judiciary, and media operate under significant constraints, often yielding to pressures that skew the natural course of expression and decision-making towards preordained outcomes.

Maryam Nawaz’s candid admission in a spirited address, claiming PML(N)’s only competition is within its own ranks, starkly highlights the altered political landscape favoring PML(N) and the constriction of political space for PTI, its principal competitor. Despite facing numerous challenges, PTI continues to hold significant public support, as evidenced by various polls. According to a Gallup Pakistan survey from 2023, Imran Khan was deemed the most popular leader with a 61% approval rating, outpacing other political figures. However, this support has seen a decline, tilting towards PML(N), as newer surveys indicate a shifting preference among the electorate. In Punjab, a 2024 IPOR poll showed PML(N) in the lead with 45% support over PTI’s 35%. Conversely, in Sindh, PPP led with 42% in a Gallup Pakistan survey, while PTI trailed at 19%. Yet, PTI maintained a strong foothold in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 45% backing, as per a Gallup Pakistan survey conducted in January 2024. This evolving political sentiment underscores the dynamic and fluid nature of Pakistan’s political arena.

Despite polling data suggesting PTI’s leadership position, it’s evident that the full weight of state resources has been leveraged to undercut the party’s presence. Across the nation, the state apparatus has been deployed to thwart PTI’s attempts at organizing public gatherings. In instances where PTI has managed to conduct rallies, especially within the KP province, against the odds of state intervention, their visibility has been significantly diminished by the mainstream media’s reluctance to broadcast these events, thereby diluting their potential impact.

Pakistan’s position in various global indices underscores deep-seated concerns about its governance, rule of law, and freedoms. The World Bank’s political stability percentile, Lowy Institute’s ranking, and the Fragile States Index’s “Warning” category highlight Pakistan’s volatile political climate, marred by frequent leadership turnovers and military influence.

The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2023 places Pakistan alarmingly low, underscoring deficiencies in regulatory enforcement, civil, and criminal justice systems. Similarly, the Global Competitiveness Report 2022 reflects concerns over the efficiency of Pakistan’s legal-regulatory framework. Moreover, Freedom House’s 2023 report on judicial independence categorizes Pakistan as “not free,” with a notably low score, revealing a judiciary under duress.

These rankings collectively paint a grim picture of a nation grappling with systemic challenges that hinder democratic processes and the safeguarding of fundamental freedoms.

Drawing on decades of experience within the bureaucracy, it’s clear that the civil service adeptly senses and aligns with the prevailing political currents, now veering towards PML(N), distancing from PTI and others. This pivot reflects a broader understanding, shared by political entities, the populace, and global observers, that in Pakistan, the sequence of ‘selection before election’ is a recognized norm, shaping the political landscape and influencing the bureaucratic stance. This adaptation by the bureaucracy underscores the intricate dance between governance and power dynamics in Pakistan.

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