Time of India-The Interviews Blog : ‘Imran Khan sounded statesmanlike regarding better ties with India … but he has often gone back on statements’ tells Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani is Global Fellow at Washington’s Wilson Centre, former member of Pakistani parliament (from Pakistan People’s Party) and former media adviser to the Pakistani president. She spoke to Rohit E David on Imran Khan being set to become the new prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s decision to come back to the country, and the role the military will continue to have in Pakistani politics:

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Farahnaz Ispahani

How will Imran Khan becoming PM change the scenario in Pakistan?

Farahnaz Ispahani: Imran Khan has won the election amidst the most serious and blatant charges of election rigging in Pakistan’s political history. Khan’s arrogant personality and inability to forgive will make it difficult for him to take the opposition parties along – and with his slim lead this will create an extremely divided parliament. And, potentially weaken the ability of the government to make decisions and then implement them. The scenario in Pakistan is already fraught with tension. Frequent terror attacks by extremist groups, increasing sectarianism, an economy on the brink of collapse and Khan’s openly espoused contempt for India and the United States will lead to an even weaker nation.

Do you feel that Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan was a blunder?

Farahnaz Ispahani: In retrospect it was ill advised. He was basing his return on assumptions that failed to occur. I believe Nawaz Sharif was removed from his post as prime minister unconstitutionally as his disqualification preceded his trial. At the time of his disqualification, no court of law had carried out a trial and the Supreme Court acted at the military’s behest. As for his return, like any other citizen of Pakistan he had the right to come home and participate in the democratic process. Sharif also has millions of supporters who he thought needed his presence to lead the election.

How will Pakistan’s relation with India change with Khan as PM?

Farahnaz Ispahani: Imran Khan was brought to power by the establishment. Military, intelligence agencies, judiciary and the election commission of Pakistan. I believe, the military, his biggest benefactor, will make him toe the line with India. And, if Khan tries to act in a more open manner with India he will feel the power of the boot very quickly. In any case statements made by him and his party members in the past and present indicate there is contempt among PTI leaders regarding Pakistan’s largest neighbour.

Will Pakistani army have a larger say in the daily working of parliament?

Farahnaz Ispahani: Pakistan army worked very hard to get Khan elected. And, did so in a very obvious manner. Therefore, they will expect him to be grateful and continue to follow their lead vis-a-vis India and the United States – and leave all the foreign, defence and economic policy decisions in their hands.

Has Pakistan rejected hardline Islamist parties?

Farahnaz Ispahani: Pakistan’s hardline Islamist parties do not usually do very well at the ballot box. Khan’s nickname of ‘Taliban Khan’ and his support of the blasphemy law indicates that he will, if not outrightly, support the Islamist parties. Because he shares some of their beliefs he may want to work with them as prime minister. In his first address to the nation Imran Khan sounded positive and statesmanlike regarding better ties with India and the United States but he has often gone back on previous statements. In any case, even if we grant him the best will in the world, most of his speech will not be acted upon. The military establishment will ensure that.

Is it the end of the road for Bilawal Bhutto?

Farahnaz Ispahani: Bilawal Bhutto ran the PPP election campaign this cycle and he retained the home base of Sindh province. He has also contested and won his first seat in the National Assembly of Pakistan. Most analysts have said Mr Bhutto-Zardari conducted himself with maturity at the young age of 29. The real question is whether the PPP will remain the regional party his father Asif Zardari has made it – or could it become a federal/national party again? Too soon to say.

Election authorities had granted military officers broad powers inside polling centres. Do you feel the elections were rigged?

Farahnaz Ispahani: Yes. I do believe the elections were rigged. Openly and blatantly. Every major opposition party has commented on it including former Punjab chief minister (and Nawaz Sharif’s brother) Shehbaz Sharif. The election was marred by allegations of military meddling and pre-poll rigging. Pakistan’s military, intelligence services, judiciary, and the election commission have interfered directly in the past as well. The ‘establishment’ as Pakistanis refer to it has created political alliances and propped up politicians throughout Pakistan’s political history. But this time, all pretence was abandoned.

Pre-poll rigging was carried out through media censorship, the targeted disqualifications of leading politicians, and the mainstreaming of terrorists. Election day continued with even more flagrant manipulation.

Note: The Interior was Published by “Time of Indian” and the link to the Interview is Interview of Farahnaz Ispahani with Time of India

Not cricket at all – How Imran Khan won in politics, using hate by Farahnaz Ispahani

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Author Farahnaz Ispahani

In no surprise to any serious observer of Pakistani politics, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has garnered the lead in Pakistan’s elections. The election was marred by allegations of military meddling and pre-poll rigging. Those allegations and the likelihood of falling short of an absolute majority will taint Khan’s victory for years to come.

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Imran Khan made his first PM-like speech – before the official results were even out.

In an indictment of the Election Commission’s incompetence, the results were still trickling in almost a day later. There were complaints of military officers directing polling staff and polling staff refusing to share requisite forms for election results with polling agents of parties other than PTI.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) called the preliminary results an assault on democracy. Party leader Shehbaz Sharif claimed the results showed “a sheer rigging”. “The way the people’s mandate has blatantly been insulted, it is intolerable,” Shehbaz said. “We totally reject this result. It is a big shock to Pakistan’s democratic process.”

Imran Khan mobilised many young voters with his mantra of ‘Naya Pakistan” or a New Pakistan.

But that may be harder to achieve with a weak Parliamentary majority and a unified opposition that feels cheated. The country’s second democratic transfer of power will, thus, start off on the wrong footing.

Unlike the first democratic handover between the PPP and the PML-N in 2013, this election ended up becoming a contest between pro-establishment and anti-establishment forces, the term ‘establishment’ being used in Pakistan as a synonym for the all-powerful military.

It was fiercely contested by all the country’s leading parties, including the conservative Islamist MMA coalition, and an assortment of minor parties, some of them propped up by the establishment.

The establishment’s goal seemed to be to weaken and decimate the traditional parties.

Pakistan’s military, spy services, judiciary and the Election Commission have faced questions about the fairness of elections before. They have created political alliances and propped up politicians throughout Pakistan’s chequered history – but this time, all inhibitions about appearances of propriety were abandoned.

Even Nawaz Sharif’s rise to the office of prime minister in 1990, as head of the ISI-created Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), did not have such an odour of deceit, open partisanship of state institutions, or of the people’s mandate being robbed so blatantly.

This time round, pre-poll rigging was carried out through media censorship, arbitrary disqualifications of leading candidates, manipulation of political parties by intelligence services, and the mainstreaming of terrorists. Election day continued with more flagrant manipulation.

Why did the military feel the need to intervene so directly and openly to favour one political party over others?

In 1990, the army was motivated by fears of Benazir Bhutto being close to the West at a time when sanctions seemed inevitable over Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

This time, it seems insecure about the burgeoning India-US partnership and the prospect of losing its grip on some of the terror groups it created. In the Generals’ opinion, the PPP and PML-N cannot be trusted in view of their alleged corruption and unwillingness to embrace the Jihadi narrative.

The establishment would rather trust a populist leader using hate to generate support, the Pakistani equivalent of Turkey’s Erdogan and Hungary’s Oban. Imran Khan has earned the military’s trust by appeasing terrorist actions, saluting the Pakistani establishment and holding his opponents and their supporters in total scorn.

Imran Khan’s victory is likely to lead to a very divided Pakistan.

A country that is barely holding on economically – and where terrorists have been mainstreamed – is unlikely to break out of international isolation.

His arrogance and lack of introspection – and the use of hate speech against other groups including religious minorities – has led to comparisons between him and other celebrity leaders, including one in the US, who rose to power without experience in government.

Among the fears of Pakistan’s centrist citizens is the likelihood of Prime Minister Imran Khan adopting extreme positions on ties with India and the United States, and stepping up support for terrorist organisations, especially the Taliban.

Khan is also known for intolerance towards those who disagree with him within Pakistan.

Pakistani religious minorities are afraid of further marginalisation and violence, given Khan’s anti-Ahmadi rhetoric in the final days of his campaign. Khan’s supporters tend to be verbally violent on social media and his own verbal excesses are also well-known. He described Pakistani liberals as ‘bloodthirsty’ and has often been willing to describe his opponents as ‘traitors’ and thieves.

With no prior experience in government, Imran Khan will have to deal with the many challenges facing Pakistan, including a looming financial crisis. Managing the economy of a country that exports almost half the value of what it imports will prove harder than peddling the over-simplification that ending political corruption alone would make Pakistan prosperous.

Uneasy days lie ahead for Pakistan. After the euphoria of Imran Khan’s supporters subsides, Pakistan needs to deal with its substantive problems. Corruption is one of them – but a greater problem is the establishment’s refusal to recognise that its inflexible worldview about the US, India, Afghanistan, Jihadi terrorism, and Pakistani patriotism are all sources of difficulty for the country’s hapless 200 million.

Note: The article was originally published by Daily O and the link to the original article is Not cricket at all – How Imran Khan won in politics, using hate by Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI @fispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of Pakistan’s National Assembly. She is Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC and the author of Purifying the Land of the the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities.

Farce Majeure: Why Pakistan’s 2018 General Election is a brutal mockery By Farahnaz Ispahani

Pakistan’s farcical election features Nawaz Sharif and his daughter in prison, hardline terrorists freely contesting, media censorship, crackdowns on protests — and bomb blasts targeting select political rallies.

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Author Farahnaz Ispahani

Pakistan has had a succession of weak elected civilian governments — but most of them at least started out with a veneer of respectability. The government formed after the July 25, 2018 election would be the first to lack credibility from its very first day.

Pakistan has had a succession of weak elected civilian governments — but most of them at least started out with a veneer of respectability. The government formed after the July 25, 2018 election would be the first to lack credibility from its very first day.

These elections are being held under the shadow of media censorship, arbitrary disqualifications of leading candidates, manipulation of political parties by intelligence services, and the mainstreaming of terrorists.

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PML-N supporters arrested after holding a rally to obstruct the arrest of Mohammad Safdar, son-in-law of of Nawaz Sharif.

Even by Pakistani standards, the interference of Pakistan’s military establishment is too blatant and too obvious this time for the world to ignore. If the establishment’s favorites win, they will not be viewed as having won the people’s mandate.

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People’s mandate? The interference of Pakistan’s military establishment is too blatant and too obvious this time for the world to ignore

In case they somehow lose, the stage will be set for a new round of confrontation between the establishment and its protégés, on the one hand, and the political parties they tried to block, on the other.

In unprecedented panic on part of the establishment, no holds have been barred in denying space to Pakistan’s political mainstream — while mainstreaming extremists.

This is an unusual election because restrictions are in place on all moderate political parties previously preferred by voters, while extremists identified as terrorists by local and global authorities are free to participate.

Elections are usually preceded by robust debate in the media — but in this instance, draconian constraints on media have been imposed by the intelligence agencies. The electronic and print media have been harassed directly by the security services and even Dawn, the establishment newspaper since its founding by Pakistan’s founder, has not been spared. Its publisher recently described the media environment in Pakistan as “censorship”.

Women journalists are particular targets of sexually explicit comments and threats of rape. Trolls on social media call them names that are psychologically harmful. Liberals are attacked ferociously with abuse from anonymous accounts, aimed at silencing their voices.

Speeches by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz — particular targets for elimination from the political scene — were taken off the air. Orders were issued to not air a live broadcast of Sharif’s return to Pakistan or his subsequent arrest. Interviews with the Sharif family were dropped or censored after being recorded.

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Clampdown: Orders were issued to not air a live broadcast of Sharif’s return to Pakistan or his subsequent arrest.

When Sharif returned to Pakistan to go to prison after being convicted on corruption charges, the caretaker government — charged with organising free and fair polls — cracked down on popular dissent in anticipation of his arrival. Hundreds of people were arrested in Lahore — many of them members of Sharif’s party, the centre-right Pakistan Muslim League (PML) — and cell phone service was suspended in parts of the city.

The ensuing unrest was not confined to Lahore. Media reports indicated arrests of protesters and shutting down of major intersections in several other cities across the country. Even politicians opposed to Sharif protested this attempt to deny the right to peaceful protest.

While Sharif and his daughter have been sent to prison, the deep state’s mainstreaming of Pakistan’s “good terrorists” (militant groups it treats as strategic assets against India and in Afghanistan) is well underway. Clearly, Pakistan’s establishment deems allegations of financial wrongdoing a greater crime than terrorism.

The corruption case against Sharif was rammed through court without regard for legal niceties and he was disqualified from holding office even before he was put on trial. Meanwhile, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, who is accused of being involved in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 26/11, 2008, is not only free, but also actively campaigning in these elections for the newly created political party, Tehrik Allah-o-Akbar.

 Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, who is accused of being involved in the 26/11 Mumbai attack, is not only free but also actively campaigning.

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Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, who is accused of being involved in the 26/11 Mumbai attack, is not only free but also actively campaigning.

No questions have ever been asked about the terrorist group’s financing either — an issue that has led Pakistan to be put on the grey list of the United Nations’ Financial Action Task Force. Surely, if the goal is eliminating corruption, rather than re-engineering the polity, the corruption tied to terrorism also deserves some attention.

Extremists have not faced a media blackout and other restrictions that applied to the PML-N and other political parties. After successful rallies by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the centrist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was also denied permission to travel and hold rallies, alongside denial of media access.

The Left-wing Awami National Party (AWP) has been the target of a terrorist attack on one of its major stars, Haroon Bilour, whose father had also been killed in a terrorist attack several years ago. That the pro-establishment Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, has faced neither restrictions, nor terrorist attacks indicates whose voters are being scared from coming out to the polls.

Ironically, the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Saqib Nisar, who has become a significant player in Pakistan’s politics and was instrumental in Sharif’s disqualification, had withdrawn official security from Bilour, making him an easier target for terrorists.

Another terrorist attack in Mastung, Balochistan — taking place on the day Nawaz Sharif and his daughter returned to Pakistan — killed 129 people, including a provincial Assembly candidate.

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An attempt to put off elections: The attack which killed 129 people took place on the day Nawaz Sharif and his daughter returned to Pakistan.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) noted that “Despite the excessive presence of security forces in Balochistan, the capacity of militants to strike on this scale appears to be intact,” implicitly worrying that the terrorist attacks might be used as justification to put off elections.

The HRCP rightly asserted that “Election gatherings must not become killing fields.” But then, many Pakistanis already suspect that the July 25 election is not meant to be an exercise in democracy — it is just a cover for continued imposition of a permanent establishment’s choices on the people of Pakistan.

Note: The article was originally published by Daily O and the link to the original article is: Farce Majeure: Why Pakistan’s 2018 General Election is a brutal mockery

Writer

Farahnaz IspahaniFARAHNAZ ISPAHANI @fispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of Pakistan’s National Assembly. She is Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC and the author of Purifying the Land of the the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities.

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