By Charlie Kimber
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What’s behind the political crisis in Pakistan after election upset?

Supporters of the imprisoned former prime minister Imran Khan won a surprise victory in elections
Issue 2892
Imran Khan

Imran Khan

Pakistan is in deep political crisis after elections did not produce the result the ruling class and the military wanted. The country of 250 million neighbours Iran and turmoil at the top will flow into the upheavals across the region. 

Candidates loyal to imprisoned former prime minister Imran Khan won a shock victory in voting this week, defying a campaign of arrests and harassment.

Independents backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party are set to be the largest group in parliament. But they fell short of a majority and other parties will try to block them from taking office.

The expected winner, another ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, has simply ignored reality and claimed to have won.

Khan is not left wing and is part of the ruling class. But he has mildly differed with the US over Ukraine and sections of the ruling class don’t trust him fully to hold down insurgency from below.

It is a case of the “hostile brothers” at the top of a capitalist government.

A socialist from Pakistan told Socialist Worker, “The economic crisis is forcing the Pakistani ruling class to panic.

“The crisis stems from imperialist collaboration and implementing the International Monetary Fund policies of raising fuel, electricity, gas, bread, education and health costs by 200-300 percent in the past five years. The resistance in the larger urban centres is led by the middle class and hence its form is populist.”

The state jailed Khan for the last eight months on charges of revealing government secrets.

Khan was accused of leaking a private cable in 2022 from Pakistan’s then-ambassador to the United States, about a meeting with a senior US state department official. Khan argued that he had a duty to make the cable’s contents public, claiming that it exposed a US plot to oust him from power

In addition, Khan was recently sentenced to long jail terms for profiting from gifts given to him in his official capacity, leaking state secrets and marrying his wife before 40 days had elapsed after her divorce.

The fact Khan could mobilise enough votes despite these obstacles will further divide the political class. The military has always played a huge role in Pakistan and it might decide what happens next.

Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has been under military dictatorship for a total of 34 years. When not directly in power, the military elite bully civilian governments from behind the scenes.

No prime minister has ever completed a five-year tenure, but three out of four military dictators managed to rule for more than nine years each.

On Saturday General Syed Asim Munir said, “The nation needs stable hands and a healing touch to move on from the politics of anarchy and polarisation.” He wants Khan crushed and a governing lash-up of the other parties.

The horse-trading has already begun. Sharif’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, met late on Friday former president Asif Ali Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

The Bhutto-Zardaris run the PPP party, which has 53 seats so far. Sharif’s PMLN has 74. They could try to win over MPs to create a coalition.

The independents, meanwhile, have around 100 seats and have to tell the National Assembly within 72 hours if they have joined a party or want to maintain their independent status.

For ordinary people, the most pressing issues are soaring prices—inflation is around 40 percent—and continuing poverty. 

A socialist In Pakistan told Socialist Worker, “Huge protests in December and January against price hikes forced the governments in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir to cancel food and electricity hikes. Millions participated in strikes and wheel jam strikes (transport shutdowns).

“Similarly a movement against enforced disappearances in Balochistan led hundreds of thousands to protest and strike in November and December, mobilising an entirely new group of courageous young people.

“People rejected mainstream parties that kept silent and became irrelevant on price hikes and military disappearances.”

The US, Britain and the European Union are watching the election aftermath with concern that their friends could lose control. 

Foreign secretary David Cameron felt forced to say there were “serious concerns” about the way the elections were held and counted. He raised questions “about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections”.

The Israeli genocide in Gaza, and the Western attacks in Iraq, Yemen and Syria are creating a potential for wider wars across the region.

 The militaries of Iran and Pakistan fired missiles at each other earlier this month. Each side said it was targeting separatist groups that it alleges the other country allows to operate in their territory.

Amid the manoeuvres at the top in Pakistan, only action by workers and the poor in their own interests offers a way forward.

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