As Pakistan prepares for general elections for 342-seat Pakistan National Assembly in a week’s time, it is clear that the powerful Pakistan Army has joined hands with other two strong institutions of the country i.e the Judiciary and the Election Commission to benefit Imran Khan’s PTI and other extremist political parties – Lashkar-e-Taiba supported Milli Muslim League (through Allaha-u-Akbar Tehreek), Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan and ultra-conservative Muttahida Majlis–e–Amal, all of which have entered the electoral arena this year seeking to benefit from the discrediting of the PML-N and PPP, with adequate propping up by Rawalpindi. The “Pre-Poll” rigging of elections by state institutions is all too evident by surge of politically motivated criminal cases against former PM Nawaz Sharif. He was disqualified as the PM by the Pakistan Supreme Court and later, just before the Senate polls, he was also disqualified as the Party President, for not being, “Sadiq,” and, “Ameen,” which have no legal sanctity. Now, just before the elections Mr Nawaz Sharif has been sentenced to 10 year imprisonment for not declaring income in the Avenfield Properties case and holding disproportionate assets. This is despite the fact that the court judgement clearly stated that there is no evidence of corruption against Mr Sharif. There is no doubt that Mr Nawaz Sharif is being “punished” for being on the wrong side of the Army. On the other hand PPP Chairman and former President Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur have also been placed on the Exist Control List (ECL) and called for questioning by the Federal Investigation Agency. Pakistan election commission has also sought assistance of the Pakistan Army for conduct of 25 July Elections. The Army is likely to deploy nearly 3,71,388 security persons for election duty. This is the largest deployment of security personnel in an election in Pakistan’s history. Keeping in mind the internal security situation in Pakistan the large deployment seems justified. However the soldiers will not only be deployed outside the polling stations but they will also be present inside the stations. It is suspected that the soldiers deployment inside the polling stations will be used to influence and coerce the voters to vote for the Army backed Imran Khan’s PTI party. The Army has also kept strict control over the media. Pakistan’s oldest and most prestigious newspaper, Dawn, is on the cross hair of Army after it published Mr Nawaz Sharif‘s interview in May 2018, in which Mr Sharif questioned the wisdom of “allowing” Pakistani militants to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai. He also questioned why the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks has not been prosecuted. The comment was seen as anti- military, which is widely believed to harbor militants and which Mr Sharif has openly blamed for being behind his disqualification from office last year. Since the infamous interview, Dawn newspaper distribution has been suspended across large parts of urban Pakistan that are controlled by the army’s real estate giant, the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), as well as in military garrison areas where many civilians live. Similarly, In March 2018, the country’s largest television news network, Geo, was widely blocked by cable providers in military-controlled areas, after one of its reporters closely followed the corruption case against Mr Sharif, and dug up information that suggested the grounds on which he was disqualified were “extremely weak”. The media has also been forced into silence from reporting about the peacefulgrassroots protest movement of the Pashtun Tahaffuz (Safety) Movement (PTM). The PTM has spoken strongly and defiantly against the Army. Although elections being held in Pakistan after successful completion of tenure by a civilian government is a cause of celebration for supporters of democracy in Pakistan, but it is clear that what is in fact underway in Pakistan is the classic case of ‘soft coup’ by the Pakistan Army. It has the support of the so-called independent judiciary and the Election commission and it has successfully gagged the independent media. The timing and nature of sentencing of the Sharifs in the Avenfield case suggest an insidious strategy by the army to interfere in the electoral process, under the façade of an independent judiciary seeking to weed out corruption.
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