The Pakistani establishment has crossed the opposition red line in its latest power play, effectively challenging the populace to resist. And many are doing just that because they fear losing their land.
By Andrew Korybko
The postmodern coup that ousted former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in April 2022 as punishment for his multipolar foreign policy triggered a cascade of economic, judicial, political and internal security crises. These crises have shaken Pakistan to the core. The US-backed regime that replaced Khan is refusing to hold free and fair elections in a timely manner. It knows it would lose after the former prime minister’s ousted party — the PTI — won several by-elections last year.
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At the same time, the coup regime brutally cracked down on civil society, jailing dissidents and censoring the media out of sheer desperation to lose power. But the Pakistani people could not be silenced and forced to accept what Imran Khan calls an “imported government.” And citizens continue to protest peacefully to exercise their democratic rights. They believe that Pakistan’s political crisis can only be resolved through elections, only then can the other crises be resolved.
To their credit, these people have stayed true to their path, despite the attempted assassination of Imran Khan in November 2022, the raid on his home in mid-March 2023 and the Home Secretary’s ongoing death threats against him. The red line has always been that Khan must not be arrested on trumped-up charges, as that scenario would endanger his life and also likely wreck any democratic settlement.
That red line was crossed on May 9 after dozens of paramilitaries stormed a courthouse in Islamabad to take Khan away. Describing the process, former Human Rights Secretary Shireen Mazari said:
“Like being in an occupied country.”
Protests were organized across the country in response to Khan’s arrest and are still ongoing at the time of publication of this analysis. However, the regime could use these protests as an excuse to justify a military coup in the worst case.
The latest establishment power play is extremely dangerous, as all interest groups are well aware of how polarized Pakistani society has become over the past year. The establishment could have responsibly influenced its political representatives, who replaced Kahn after the regime change in April 2022, in order to organize free and fair elections in a timely manner and thus offer the population a pressure valve. It could also have averted the ensuing cascade of crises, which peaked on May 9th.
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In theory, some sort of pragmatic deal could still have been negotiated between the establishment and the PTI if the latter had returned to power as expected. But such a result no longer seems possible. The Pakistani establishment has crossed the opposition red line in its latest power play, effectively challenging the populace to resist. And many are doing just that because they fear losing their land.
According to the protesters, Pakistan is entering a new dark age, with the possibility of never regaining the sovereignty that the country is losing every day as a result of the crises. You cannot in good conscience sit back and let this happen without knowing deep in your heart that you have tried everything to prevent it. This explains why these people are literally risking their lives right now to protest the arrest of Imran Khan and for their country’s democratic future.
At this point, it seems unlikely that the establishment will back down by releasing Khan and pressuring the regime to agree on a date for free and fair elections. But that doesn’t mean his strategy can’t change. In any case, it is clear that Pakistan’s long-standing political crisis has come to an end, since only two mutually exclusive outcomes are possible: the chance for genuine democracy or the continuation of a dictatorship.
Translation from English.
Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political scientist specializing in US strategy in Africa and Eurasia, China’s Belt & Road Initiative, Russia’s geopolitical balancing act and hybrid warfare.
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