The post-election despair of Pakistan’s Western-oriented elites echoes the American establishment’s moral panic over Russian meddling.
By Junaid S. Ahmad
The fever-pitched aura around this year’s elections in Pakistan was for good reason: a palpable feeling of transition from the old to the new was in the air. Meanwhile, the Western mainstream (and alternative) media, as well as much of the native elite English media, advanced an atmosphere of hysteria and moral panic at what they called “Pakistan’s dirtiest elections” ever. We were told to believe that the Pakistani military, which undoubtedly has been involved in the political life throughout the country’s history, indeed directly ruling the country directly for half of its history, was the sole factor for which the corrupt and ruthless politicians of the two parties, who believe it is their birthright to play a game of musical chairs with each other, looting and plundering as much as possible before they are removed and get their next turn – were rejected in these elections.
Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), or the “Movement for Justice,” the political party of the iconic cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, has swept this year’s national elections. They are the single largest political party in the country’s National Assembly, the unquestioned victor as the party that will continue to govern the province of KPK in the Northwest of the country (PTI governed the province for the past five years), and has even made inroads in Pakistan’s major city of Karachi, where they have displaced the once all-powerful Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), which operated in a semi-fascist, mafioso-style, with rampant intimidation, ransoms, and murders. The MQM ran the streets and political life of Kararchi since their inception in the 1980s. MQM’s declining fortunes was of course facilitated by a relatively popular demand that the Pakistani military come to the city and deploy rangers to ‘clean up’ the vigilantes of the MQM. The bulging urban youth of Pakistan’s financial heartland seemed to have voted for PTI en masse.
Imran Khan, who founded his PTI political party in 1996, had developed an impeccable reputation in both his leadership of Pakistan’s cricket victory in the World Cup of 1992, as well as his widely-respected social welfare activities in the country, including a cancer hospital for the poor in the name of his late mother. But Khan made a sharp turn in his life, and decided that to truly transform Pakistan, structurally and systemically so that the same rut does not keep reappearing with different (dynastic, feudal, or clan) names, political engagement was essential. Though there are other smaller political parties, including provincial ones as well as a few national religious parties, the national civilian political life of the country has been dominated by two political parties: the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the Bhutto family, formed amidst the anti-military dictatorship mass popular movement in the late 1960s, on the one hand, and the Sharif family – who effectively were created out of thin air by the rightwing Zia-ul-Huq military dictatorship. The Sharifs and their Pakistani Muslim League (PML) was established by the military high command to counter and undermine the renewed anti-dictatorship opposition emerging from the PPP.
Junaid S. Ahmad is secretary-general of the International Movement to Create a Just World (JUST-Kuala Lumpur); a PhD candidate in decolonial thought at the School of Sociology, University of Leeds; a fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA-Istanbul); and the director of Center for Global Studies at the School of Advanced Studies, University of Management and Technology (UMT), Lahore, Pakistan.