Former Pakistan Prime Minister and his wife, Bushra Bibi, were given 14 years in prison on Wednesday in the Toshakhana case, in which they are being accused of retaining and even selling the gifts given by foreign governments when Khan was Prime Minister. Both have been barred from holding any public office for 10 years. This comes after Tuesday’s verdict, where Imran Khan and his former foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi have been sentenced to 10 years in prison for revealing official secrets. Meanwhile, Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has been denied its election symbol, as a result of which its candidates can stand only as independents in the national election scheduled for next week on 8 February. Hence, the party that was ruling Pakistan until over a year ago, and which swept the provincial election in Punjab in 2022, has been cancelled by the Pakistan establishment—the military, that is.
Imran Khan is no saint. The charges against him are real. He is not a good administrator either. In fact, it was from his time that Pakistan’s economic downturn got increasingly pronounced, leading to street unrest as prices shot up. However, the actual blame for the situation lies with the military generals who have been using Pakistan as their personal vault. Imran Khan was selected by the military in a sham election, in the hope that his westernized image would be able to charm enough western institutions to open their purse strings for Pakistan. But once that did not materialise and when Imran Khan started showing signs of independence by asking the military to be answerable to his government, it was but natural that the generals would get rid of him. Only, his removal through a no-confidence motion led to the turning of popular opinion in his favour, resulting in the sweep in Punjab. Chances are, if free and fair elections were held in Pakistan next week, Imran Khan’s PTI would have romped home to power. That’s how democracy functions, whether one likes the outcome or not. Instead, in a reversal of fortune, Imran Khan, the man who was selected to lead Pakistan in a sham election, at a time when the wind was blowing in favour of Nawaz Sharif, finds himself in a situation similar to what Sharif’s was in 2018—jailed for corruption and banned for life from holding public office. In 2024, Nawaz Sharif has completed his exile in luxury in London and has been “uncancelled”, with his lifetime ban declared unconstitutional. He may even be back as Prime Minister after 8 February, depending on the deal he has cut with the military. In other words, the military will perpetuate its hold on Pakistan by pulling off another coup—“democratically”. An actual military coup will result in sanctions from the United States, hence the façade of democracy. The problem is, the US seems to be a willing player in this game. It seems willing to be duped.
The US is apparently the upholder of freedom and democracy in the world, and does not hesitate to point out the deficiencies even in the world’s largest democracy, India, for the minutest of apparent infractions. In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government has been in the crosshairs of the Biden administration for doing far less than what Pakistan has been doing. The US has sanctioned Bangladeshi entities, threatened the Hasina government of dire consequences, got its ambassador in Dhaka to meet the Opposition—and all because Washington DC decided that the radical Jamaat, a Pakistani proxy and one of the world’s worst human rights violators, should be allowed to come within the touching distance of power in the company of the Opposition BNP. This is an obvious instance of fronts of Islamist organisations influencing US policymaking, because of which President Joe Biden does not invite Bangladesh to his Summit of Democracy, but invites Pakistan. It’s a different matter that Pakistan, scared of its Chinese masters, skips the event. This is the height of hypocrisy on the part of the US. Except for the rare and minor condemnation of the attack on a PTI rally, that killed several people this week, the US hasn’t been forthcoming on the murder of democracy in Pakistan, all apparently for strategic reasons—possibly in the mistaken belief that Pakistan can help it retain its foothold in the Af-Pak region. The US still has not learned its lesson from the way it was led up the garden path by Pakistan on Afghanistan, from where the US made a shameful exit.
So Pakistan continues to be a Major Non Nato Ally of the US, while its army chief is feted by Antony Blinken and Victoria Nuland. No wonder this double-dealing is making large parts of the world lose trust in the US. In this context, mention must be made of Donald Trump. There is something eerily similar to the treatment being meted out to him, with what is happening to Imran Khan in Pakistan. Trump is being cancelled by the courts, all kinds of machinations are going on to remove him from the ballot to the extent that he may even be sent to prison before votes are cast in the November 2024 Presidential election. But then the US is a democracy and Trump may avoid Imran Khan’s fate eventually. The problem starts when the Biden administration would have us believe that Pakistan too is a democracy.