The Hamilton Spectator

Pakistan generals remain in charge


Pakistan’s former prime minister, former cricket superstar and latter-day populist politician Imran Khan was having a quiet week in jail, six months into his three-year sentence for corruption, and suddenly all hell broke loose.

Last Tuesday, he was given another 10-year jail sentence for leaking state secrets (to wit, an official report by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington of a conversati­on with two U.S. State Department officials).

On Wednesday, another court gave both him and his wife, Bushra Bibi, 14-year jail sentences on another corruption charge for allegedly selling official gifts he had been given while in office (four Rolex watches, an expensive pen and some cufflinks) and keeping the proceeds.

And on Friday, another court sentenced both him and his wife to eight years in prison for getting married too soon after his wife divorced her previous husband in 2018. Islamic law says a woman must wait three months before remarrying. They say she did wait; her exhusband says she didn’t.

All this is happening because there is a parliament­ary election in Pakistan on Thursday. Khan has already been banned from running in it, and thousands of members of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI — Pakistan Movement for Justice) have been arrested or simply disappeare­d in order to deter his supporters from voting.

Pakistan is the world capital of cynicism.

Everybody knows that a coalition of the other parties, fronted by another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, will win this election because he has the army’s blessing — just as Khan had the army’s blessing when he became prime minister six years ago.

Khan is in jail now mainly because he lost the army’s support when he challenged its power in both politics and the economy — but he should not despair, for his replacemen­t, Sharif, has gone through the same cycle and is now having a happy ending.

Like Khan, Sharif was a legally elected prime minister who was brought down by various corruption charges when the army turned against him. He got out of the country before the obedient courts delivered their final verdicts, sat out his disgrace in London — and now he’s back. The army needed a replacemen­t for Khan, so Sharif’s criminal conviction­s were rapidly dismissed, he came home, and soon he’ll be prime minister once more. But the wheel will keep turning, because nobody can fix what ails Pakistan without breaking the politics and economic power of the army.

A quarter of a billion Pakistanis are trapped in this loop because the country sees itself as being in a permanent confrontat­ion with India, which has six times the population and 12 times the GDP. So long as that vision prevails, Pakistan’s army will be seen as indispensa­ble and its position as the final arbiter of everything will be unchalleng­eable.

India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP party is doing its best to reshape India into the anti-Muslim government, Hindu nationalis­t state that Pakistanis have always claimed it was. Modi will win his third straight election in April/May, and by the end of that term the claim will be true.

Khan was never going to change all that. He didn’t even want to. For all his desire to curb the army’s arrogant manipulati­on of Pakistan’s politics, he never questioned the perpetual confrontat­ion with India that made a militarize­d state necessary. That allegedly even made nuclear weapons necessary.

He may even be back in power one of these days. He is still a very popular politician, and we already know he is willing to make deals with the army.

The army giveth and the army taketh away. Blessed be the names of the generals.

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