'Joke Of An Election Would Only Lead To Further Political Instability'

Imran Khan writes an op-ed by invitation in The Economist, terms May 9 a false-flag operation, Nawaz's return part of a deal with the establishment who, with ECP, have resorted to unlawful means to keep PTI out of polls

'Joke Of An Election Would Only Lead To Further Political Instability'

Former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) founder Imran Khan has stated that his party is being denied a playing field for the upcoming elections, turning any such polls into a joke that would only lead to further political instability.

He said this in an opinion piece that he had apparently written, at the invitation of the magazine The Economist, while in his prison cell. 

In the op-ed, Imran narrates how his party was ousted from power and is currently prosecuted. He explained how he and most of his party leaders remain in jail on trumped-up charges while those still free and not underground are not being allowed to campaign.

"[Election Commission] has also rejected my Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s nominations for first-choice candidates, hindered the party’s internal elections and launched contempt cases against me and other PTI leaders for simply criticising the commission," he wrote.

"The manner in which I and my party have been targeted since a farcical vote of no confidence in April 2022 [sic] has made one thing clear: the establishment—the army, security agencies and the civil bureaucracy—is not prepared to provide any playing field at all, let alone a level one, for PTI."

He added that the election commission, desperate to deny the party the right to contest elections, "is indulging in all manner of unlawful tricks".

"The courts seem to be losing credibility daily."

Imran said that at the moment, all parties are being allowed to campaign freely, except for the PTI. 

"I remain incarcerated, in solitary confinement, on absurd charges that include treason. Those few of our party’s leaders who remain free and not underground are not allowed to hold even local worker conventions. Where PTI workers manage to gather together, they face brutal police action," he wrote.

"In this scenario, even if elections were held, they would be a disaster and a farce, since PTI is being denied its basic right to campaign," Imran argued.

"Such a joke of an election would only lead to further political instability. This, in turn, would further aggravate an already volatile economy."

May 9 a 'false flag'

Imran had previously termed the incidents of May 9, when he was arrested by the paramilitary Rangers from the vicinity of the Islamabad High Court (IHC), as a spontaneous and natural reaction of his supporters and admirers. 

The government and the military, who bore the brunt of the violence perpetrated on that day, have termed it a conspiracy hatched by Imran and his supporters as they attempted to incite mutiny.

However, for the first time on Thursday, he offered a different explanation about who the May 9 perpetrators were.

"A false-flag operation on May 9th 2023 —involving, among other things, arson at military installations falsely blamed on PTI—led to several thousand arrests, abductions and criminal charges within 48 hours," he claimed, adding, "The speed [at which the arrests took place] showed it was pre-planned."

"This was followed by many of our leaders being tortured or their families threatened into giving press conferences and engineered television interviews to state that they were leaving the party. Some were compelled to join other, newly created political parties. Others were made to give false testimony against me under duress."

Nawaz Sharif has struck a deal?

On the question of Nawaz Sharif's nomination papers being accepted while his were rejected, Imran said that a former prime minister with a "conviction for corruption" has returned from Britain and has likely struck a deal with the powerful establishment that would see him return to power.

"It is my belief that Mr Sharif has struck a deal with the establishment whereby it will support his acquittal and throw its weight behind him in the upcoming elections."

He added that Nawaz had been living in the UK as "an absconder from Pakistani justice", and now, in Pakistan, the path for his political return is being cleared.

"In November a Pakistani court overturned the conviction."

But, Imran argued, the public has been unrelenting in its support for PTI and its rejection of the “selected”.

From PM House to jailhouse

Imran used the op-ed to recap the incidents of the past two years and reiterate his version of an alleged conspiracy which saw him pushed out of power.

The establishment that "engineered our removal from government under pressure from America", he argued, explaining that America was becoming "agitated with my push for an independent foreign policy and my refusal to provide bases for its armed forces."

"I was categorical that we would be a friend to all but would not be anyone’s proxy for wars," he recapped, explaining, "I did not come to this view lightly. It was shaped by the huge losses Pakistan had incurred collaborating with America’s “war on terror”, not least the 80,000 Pakistani lives lost."

On the cipher saga, he wrote how, in March 2022, an official from America’s State Department met Pakistan’s then-ambassador in Washington, DC. While Imran did not name the official in the op-ed, he has publicly named the official in the past. His family has disclosed in recent months of Imran's plans to sue the State Department official, Donald Lu. 

"After that meeting the ambassador sent a cipher message to my government. I later saw the message, via the then foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and it was subsequently read out in cabinet," he wrote. Imran Khan, as prime minister, was provided a copy of the cipher which the government contends was provided by his then-principle secretary Azam Khan, and which subsequently went missing and forms the core of the case against him under the Official Secrets Act for which he is currently on trial.

Imran, who has previously pointed to the cipher as proof of foreign interference in Pakistani affairs and a blatant regime change measure, seemed to soften his stance somewhat. 

"In view of what the cipher message said, I believe that the American official’s message was to the effect of: pull the plug on Imran Khan’s prime ministership through a vote of no confidence, or else."

Imran continued that within weeks of that message, his government was toppled.

"I discovered that Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, had, through the security agencies, been working on our allies and parliamentary backbenchers for several months to move against us."

Imran said that his ouster prompted people to flock onto the streets to protest against this regime change and, in the subsequent months, sweep the PTI to victory in 28 out of 37 by-elections with massive rallies across the country. 

The former prime minister claimed this sent a clear message about where the public stood. "These rallies attracted a level of female participation that we believe was unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. This unnerved the powers that had engineered our government’s removal."

"To add to their panic, the administration that replaced us destroyed the economy, bringing about unprecedented inflation and a currency devaluation within 18 months."

Imran, however, claimed credit for saving Pakistan from financial bankruptcy for his party.

"The contrast was clear for everyone to see: the PTI government had not only saved Pakistan from bankruptcy but also won international praise for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, despite a spike in commodity prices, we steered the economy to real GDP growth of 5.8% in 2021 and 6.1% in 2022."

"Unfortunately, the establishment had decided I could not be allowed to return to power, so all means of removing me from the political landscape were used," he said.

He reiterated his narrative that there were two assassination attempts on his life. 

"My party’s leaders, workers and social-media activists, along with supportive journalists, were abducted, incarcerated, tortured and pressured to leave PTI. Many of them remain locked up, with new charges being thrown at them every time the courts give them bail or set them free. Worse, the current government has gone out of its way to terrorise and intimidate PTI’s female leaders and workers in an effort to discourage women from participating in politics."

Imran said he faces almost 200 legal cases and has been denied a normal trial in an open court.

Illegal caretaker government and cloud on elections

Earlier, Imran started his op-ed by terming the incumbent caretaker government as illegal because they had overstayed their 90-day constitutional mandate to hold elections after the assemblies were dissolved. 

He went on to note that the Supreme Court had directed the holding of elections for the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa within three months last March. 

"Those votes should be held within three months," Imran wrote, adding that the public is "right to be sceptical about whether the national vote will take place."

Accusing the country’s election commission of being tainted by its bizarre actions, Imran reminded that it had defied the top court.

Imran claimed that despite all the actions against him and his party, the PTI remains popular, with 66% support in a Pattan-Coalition 38 poll held in December, while his personal approval rating was even higher.

"It is under these circumstances that elections may be held on February 8th," he said, as he doubted whether elections would be held.

"The only viable way forward for Pakistan is fair and free elections, which would bring back political stability and rule of law, as well as ushering in desperately needed reforms by a democratic government with a popular mandate," he said.

Noting there was no other way for Pakistan to disentangle itself from the crises confronting it, Imran added,  "Unfortunately, with democracy under siege, we are heading in the opposite direction on all these fronts."