Pakistani Voters Attempt to Reverse the Regime-Change Ordered from Washington

The national election of Feb. 8 in Pakistan saw a massive show of support for former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was removed from power and imprisoned in 2022 in a de facto US-NATO-backed coup. Although Khan’s party, the Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTT), was banned from running, independent candidates loyal to him won the most seats — 97 out of 265. The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PPMLN) of former PM Nawaz Sharif, which is backed by the U.S., came in a far second with 76, followed by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chaired by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at 54, and the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) with 17. Smaller parties and other independents won 21 seats.

Not to worry in Washington — Nawaz Sharif has declared victory anyway. Amid the reports of widespread irregularities, legal and street brawls continue. A key issue is the government’s closing down of all cell phone services going into the election, as the PTT was dependent on getting out messages as to which independents were affiliated with them. So, while they came out ahead, their vote still was suppressed.

The U.S. State Department issued a mildly concerned statement on Feb. 9, which, nonetheless, proclaimed the U.S. counts on “working with the next government,” which it no doubt expects to be a coalition of Sharif’s and Zardari’s parties.

For memory, in April 2022, Imran Khan was removed as Prime Minister of Pakistan in a no confidence vote. A 10-year prison sentence was imposed on him for his role in making public a cable that Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington had sent back to Islamabad in spring 2022, showing that the United States was pushing for Khan’s removal for not being sufficiently anti-Russia. Khan had also maintained close relations with China, in particular through his promotion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

It was thought that the generals could deliver the vote for Sharif, which led Marvin Weinbaum, Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington, to call the army “the big loser”. A major question is whether the PPP will join Sharif in a coalition government. The PPP is led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Benazir Bhutto, the Prime Minister who was assassinated in 2007, and the grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was overthrown in a military coup and executed after being convicted of trumped up charges in 1979. Even if capable of forming a government, Sharif will face potential widespread unrest over the repression of Imran Khan and his supporters. Moreover, the new government will have to face negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over the last tranche of a $3 billion bailout program that promises to present a challenging future for any government to say the least.

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