How Long Pakistan Army Establishment Maintain Its ‘Farcical Election”

Imran Khan's party faced months-long challenges, including leadership depletion, restricted mobilization due to court rulings, and strained relations with the military, a key political influencer.

4 mins read
File Photo of Pakistani senior Army Officers

Can the Pakistan Army Establishment play the role of empire with Imran Khan and his PTI party in opposition? The latest election results (February 15, 2024) reveal that PTI-affiliated independents won 93 seats, the PMLN won 73 seats, and the PPP won 54 seats, according to official results. Imran Khan’s PTI-backed candidates would join the Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen party, which won one parliamentary seat, and he ruled out any possibility of joining the PMLN-PPP coalition. Members of the Sharif brother’s led alliance are “mandate thieves,” Imran Khan said, adding that such a coalition lacks “credibility.”

The last time the PMLN and PPP aligned was in April 2022, when they ousted Imran Khan from power via a no-confidence vote. At that time, the PMLN placed Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif in power, where he ruled for 14 months until being replaced by a caretaker government. Coalition officials once again nominated Shehbaz on Tuesday to be their candidate for prime minister. Shehbaz’s first reign was widely unpopular, with many Pakistanis accusing him of being easily manipulated by Nawaz and the country’s military. Pakistan’s armed forces backed the PMLN in the latest vote count. Imran Khan has claimed that widespread vote-rigging prevented a greater win for PTI-backed candidates.


On the day of the election, Pakistani authorities temporarily shut down mobile internet access, citing security concerns, and threw out PTI-connected representatives meant to oversee vote counting. “I warn against the misadventure of forming a government with stolen votes,” Khan said. “Such daylight robbery will not only be a disrespect to the citizens but will also push the country’s economy further into a downward spiral.”

That the Pakistan Army Establishment is playing the Deep State game is evident. Albeit both the US government and the Pakistan Army Establishment have denied collusion in ousting Imran Khan’s government it is difficult to accept a proposition that the Pakistan Army Establishment used to rule the country for decades would sit idle letting Imran Khan play a Pied Piper’s tune not liked by the Army Establishment. Michael Kugelman of South Asia Brief in Foreign Policy Magazine (February 14th, 2024) wrote that electorally speaking, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was left for dead ahead of the country’s vote last week.

The party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan was targeted by a months-long that hollowed out its leadership and limited its capacity to mobilize, penalized by the court ruling that required it to field candidates as independents and was on the outs with a powerful military that has long shaped the political environment to serve its interests. Yet independents backed by PTI won nearly 100 parliamentary seats on Feb. 8—more than any other party but not enough for a majority. (It could have been even more: The party has produced evidence indicating that many official results contradict earlier figures from polling stations.) But this stunning electoral success won’t catapult PTI to power. Imran Khan’s main rivals announced that they had reached a deal to form the next coalition government. Nonetheless, PTI seems to have broken the military’s stranglehold on political control, giving cause for some optimism about the future of Pakistan’s democracy. A few factors drove PTI’s performance, but one was defiance—an unwillingness to let the powerful military dictate the outcome of an election that it wanted PTI to lose. A shift in the military’s approach likely fanned the flames.


It may be relevant to introduce the concept of Deep State as it relates to the Pakistan Army Establishment. N.S. Gill a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin wrote on November 16, 2019, that The phrase Pyrrhic victory originates from King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who in B.C. 281 suffered the original Pyrrhic victory. King Pyrrhus landed on the southern Italian shore (in Tarentum of Magna Graecia) with 20 elephants and 25,000 to 30,000 soldiers ready to defend their fellow Greek speakers against advancing Roman domination. Pyrrhus won the first two battles at Heraclea in B.C. 280 and at Asculum in B.C. 279.

However, throughout those two battles, he lost a very high number of soldiers. With numbers cut drastically, King Pyrrhus’s army became too thin to last and they eventually ended up losing the war. In both of his victories over the Romans, the Roman side suffered more casualties than Pyrrhus’ side did. But the Romans also had a much larger army to work with — thus, their casualties meant less to them than Pyrrhus did to his side. The term “Pyrrhic victory” comes from these devastating battles. Greek historian Plutarch described King Pyrrhus’s victory over the Romans in his “Life of Pyrrhus:” “The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one other such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.”


It would be relevant to the warning given by President Dwight Eisenhower to his successors to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, along with ultra-conservative news outlets like Breitbart News claimed that Former President Obama was orchestrating a deep state attack against the Trump administration. The allegation grew out of Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that Obama had ordered the wiretapping of his telephone during the 2016 election campaign.


It is doubtful if Pakistan will ever be free of the clutches of the Army Establishment. As it appears the Days of Imran Khan’s defiance of the Army rulers are over regardless of the period of detention determined by the Army. Pakistan has to cow down to the dictates of the Army as the country has done for decades. In the larger scenario, the US needs Pakistan in its quarrel with China which has to be controlled in any case though China would remain a friend of Pakistan if for no other reason than the India-China fight which flares up on occasion.

Kazi Anwarul Masud

Kazi Anwarul Masud is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. During his tenure, he worked in several countries as the ambassador of Bangladesh including Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and Germany

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