Shehbaz Sharif

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is likely to serve as the country's next leader as the result of an agreement between his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the Pakistan People's Party, and others to form a coalition government.

(Photo: Arif Ali/AFP via Getty Images)

US Progressives Decry Pakistani Military's Election Meddling

"We have a special responsibility to ensure that, going forward, our security cooperation is with a government that represents the will and democratic consent of the Pakistani people."

Leaders of the U.S. Congressional Progressive Caucus on Wednesday decried the Pakistani military's alleged meddling in last week's general election, in which candidates affiliated with jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party won the most parliamentary seats despite efforts to sideline them.

In a stunning rebuke of the military- and U.S.-backed caretaker government that dubiously charged Khan with corruption last year, candidates affiliated with the former prime minister and cricket superstar's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won 93 National Assembly seats, more than either the conservative Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) party's 75 seats or the center-left Pakistan People's Party's 54 seats.

"In their elections last week, Pakistanis sent an unequivocal message that they want a country led by the people, not the military," Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Chair Emeritus and Peace and Security Task Force Chair Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)—who is also running for U.S. Senate—said in a statement.

Khan is currently imprisoned after being sentenced last month to 10 years behind bars for allegedly leaking a diplomatic cable showing that the Biden administration encouraged the Pakistani government to oust him over his neutral stance on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Khan and his supporters say the charges against him were politically motivated.

On Tuesday, PMLN, PPP, and other party leaders agreed to form a coalition government, a move meant to thwart PTI power. Under the deal, Shehbaz Sharif, a former PMLN prime minister, will likely serve as Pakistan's next leader. The PTI says the military rigged or meddled in at least dozens of races.

The government was also widely criticized for blocking cellphone and internet service across the country during the election.

"We condemn the Pakistani military's efforts to impede those free and fair elections and call for the immediate cessation of any of those continuing efforts," Jayapal and Lee said in their statement. "Given the history of U.S. support for Pakistan's government and security forces, we have a special responsibility to ensure that, going forward, our security cooperation is with a government that represents the will and democratic consent of the Pakistani people."

The Biden administration and numerous U.S. lawmakers also expressed concerns regarding voter suppression and intimidation, restrictions of civil liberties, and electoral violence. Scores of people were killed and wounded in a pair of election eve bombings in Balochistan, among other incidents.

Writing for Foreign Policy in Focus on Tuesday, Mehlaqa Samdani of the advocacy group Community Alliance for Peace described some of the alleged voter suppression:

As the date for parliamentary elections approached, the PTI was stripped of its electoral symbol, and party candidates were forced to contest as independents... PTI candidates and their families were targeted, harassed, and assaulted, and many were forced to campaign in hiding.

Voter suppression was rife. People did not know until very late where they would vote, and at times voters within a single family were assigned polling stations hundreds of miles apart. The day before the election, citing security concerns, the Election Commission of Pakistan announced that polls would close early, further restricting voter access.

"And yet, despite massive pre-poll rigging and voter intimidation, supporters of the PTI came out in droves," Samdani added. "Tens of millions exercised their electoral rights and delivered a stunning upset."

Hasan Ali wrote for The Nation this week that Pakistan is "in a state of crisis."

"The country of 240 million people, which is reeling from chronic levels of inflation and an economic meltdown, needs a strong and stable government to address its problems," he asserted. "The official results of the election, however, have only added to the chaos. Any government that comes in, unless it is led by the PTI, will not have the legitimacy to make difficult decisions, and is likely to be dependent on the military's support."

"Pakistani progressives, too, have been left with a conundrum," he continued. "It is clear that the PTI has the overwhelming support of the population, but the party appears ideologically committed to the twin pillars of religious populism and social conservatism."

"On the other side stands the Pakistan army, which has destabilized Pakistani politics ever since the country gained its independence and made a habit of suppressing the rights of its citizens," Ali added. "The prevailing mood among the left thus far is that the people have made their choice in putting their faith in PTI and that this choice must be respected by the military establishment."

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