Pakistan’s path towards martial law revisited


Since its inception in 1947 amid religious divisions, Pakistan has rarely experienced true democracy. Instead, the nation has oscillated between periods of direct military rule and a form of governance often referred to as “militocracy” – a hybrid of military influence in government. As Pakistan once again transitions to a caretaker government, with the goal of holding general elections within 60-90 days, the interim administration’s attempts to extend its tenure and delay elections have raised concerns of a potential military takeover, which could reshape the country’s political landscape.

Originally set to hold elections by November of this year after the dissolution of the National Assembly, Pakistan has faced delays in the electoral process due to the Council of Common Interests approving the results of a digital census and subsequent delimitation of constituencies by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Critics speculate that Pakistan’s powerful military establishment might be exerting its influence behind the scenes to orchestrate these delays.

Amid these political uncertainties, Pakistan also grapples with a severe financial crisis, further compounded by recent flooding. In the midst of these challenges, the United States’ Acting Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, assured the caretaker government of US support in stabilizing the nation’s economy and maintaining engagement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Simultaneously, there are efforts to undermine the image of Pakistan’s judiciary, which has traditionally upheld a reputation for neutrality despite the country’s lack of democratic stability. Some critics acknowledge that Pakistan’s judiciary enjoys more independence than judiciaries in other South Asian countries or even in the United States. The judiciary has consistently maintained its dignity and impartiality, avoiding alignment with ruling elites or military interests. However, recent events suggest that undue pressure from ruling elites may be influencing the judiciary to take partisan or biased stances. For instance, under the directives of the caretaker government’s Home Ministry, a special court was established within Attock Prison to try former Prime Minister Imran Khan in cases related to the Official Secrecy Act. This decision came one day after the Islamabad High Court suspended Khan’s three-year jail sentence in the Toshakhana case, in which he was convicted on August 5, 2023.

Yet, following the suspension of the verdict, the special court instructed the Attock District Jail authorities – where Khan is currently detained – to keep him in “judicial lockup” until September 13 in connection with the cipher case. This case revolves around a diplomatic document allegedly missing from Khan’s possession, which his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), claims contained a US threat to remove Khan from power. The same case also involves proceedings against Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the PTI vice chairman and former foreign minister.

Public sentiment indicates that the Muslim League (Nawaz) might regain a majority in the upcoming general election and form a government, while the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) could gain more seats. The rising popularity of Imran Khan and his PTI pose a threat to both parties, especially due to Khan’s pro-Islamist and anti-US stances.

As things stand, Khan and the PTI might find participating in the next general election challenging, given the legal hurdles they face from the Muslim League (Nawaz) and the PPP, possibly with backing from the military establishment. Simultaneously, political differences and rivalries between the Muslim League (Nawaz) and the PPP are likely to deepen, potentially leading to greater complexity and political tensions in Pakistan. In such a scenario, the Pakistani military could capitalize on the situation and declare martial law, possibly with tacit approval from the Biden administration, particularly from the controversial figure of Victoria Nuland.


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