For the first time, Pakistan’s two major Opposition parties have come out openly against the country’s powerful military, accusing it of rigging the 2018 elections that brought Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party to power.
In the past, political leaders have only indirectly pointed to the involvement of the military establishment in the country’s political affairs but this is the first time that the leaders of the two main Opposition parties — the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) have openly criticised the military.
Former prime minister and PML-N supremo Sharif, who is in London since November last year and facing a number of corruption cases, fired the first salvo at the inaugural meeting of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, an alliance formed by Opposition parties last month to oust Prime Minister Khan.
Sharif alleged that the military rigged the 2018 elections to bring Prime Minister Khan to power.
He said interfering in politics in uniform amounts to treason under the country’s Constitution.
His allegations sparked an angry response from Khan, who said Sharif was “playing a very dangerous game” by humiliating the military and intelligence services. He dismissed the allegations of rigged elections as baseless.
Sharif served as Pakistan’s prime minister three times, first removed by a president in 1993, then by military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 1999. A court in 2017 ousted him from power over corruption allegations. Khan, a former cricketer, came to power in 2018.
After Sharif, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Friday accused the military of rigging the 2018 elections.
Bilawal warned that any interference in the coming legislative assembly elections in Gilgit-Baltistan would lead to a strong reaction from his party, including a siege of Islamabad and a sit-in in the city.
“Such things were never witnessed even in dictatorships of General Zia and Gen Musharraf,” Bilawal was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.
“I wonder how you deploy a soldier inside and another outside the polling station. That was so strange. Even if you (military establishment) have done something wrong or not, you would be blamed either way. This should not happen,” he said.
He said the “PPP would not allow anyone to steal the peoples mandate in the coming elections in Gilgit-Baltistan.” Pakistan has announced that the once-postponed election for the legislative assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan will be held on November 15, amidst India’s strong objection to Islamabad’s move to alter the status of the militarily-occupied region.
India also clearly conveyed to Pakistan that the entire Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of the country. Pakistan’s military top brasses have in recent times advised political parties to stop dragging them into politics and making baseless accusations against them.
Prime Minister Khan on Friday said the Opposition’s real issue with the military is that they remained unable to control the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) unlike other institutions after the agency found out about their corruption.
On September 20, the leaders of 11 major Opposition parties formed the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) to launch a three-phased anti-government movement under an “action plan” starting with countrywide public meetings, protest demonstrations and rallies before a “decisive long march” towards Islamabad in January 2021.
The Opposition parties will hold their first combined rally against the Imran Khan-led government on October 16 in Gujranwala city in Punjab province, demanding to oust the “selected” prime minister’s resignation and an end to the role of the powerful military in the country’s politics.
The Opposition leaders had announced that they would use all political and democratic options, including no-confidence motions and mass resignations from Parliament to seek “the selected prime minister’s resignation and an end to the role of the establishment in politics.