Pakistan to hold general election in july amid deteriorating civilian-military ties gas to liquid

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Earlier this month, Sharif’s statement on the involvement of Pakistan in the 2008 terror attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai strained the already poor civilian-military relations in the South Asian country even further. Despite widespread criticism, Sharif has stuck to his guns and refused to retract his contentious remarks.

“It is very good news for all Pakistanis and democrats that elections will be held in July,” I. A. Rehman, a prominent human rights activist, told DW. “But now a huge responsibility has been assigned to the election commission to organize free and fair elections, which is pivotal for true democracy,” he added.

In 2013, for the first time in its history, the country witnessed a smooth transition of power from one civilian government to another. This triggered hopes that the country had managed to put an end to its military coup-filled past, and was on track to becoming a true democracy.

But the manner in which Sharif was recently expelled from his premiership sparked suspicion that the army was behind his ouster. Sharif, who has been Pakistan’s prime minister three times, had to step down ostensibly because his family was implicated in a corruption case. However, many believe he has been targeted because of his willingness to lock horns with the army, and assert civilian authority over the military.

In addition to losing his position as premier, Sharif has been barred from leading his party and also from contesting any election ever. Their attempt to banish Sharif from Pakistani politics, some observers say, shows the institutional power of the nation’s military, indicating how the generals no longer need to undertake a coup d’etat and impose martial law in order to exercise power. Instead, they have mastered the art of ruling the country from the shadows.

Against this backdrop, experts point out that there are fears over whether the upcoming elections will be free and fair. “If the elections are not free and fair then it would not be accepted as an election because it should be transparent,” said PML-N’s Zafar ul Haq.

The elections will be crucial in determining Pakistan’s future trajectory, as the country finds itself confronting a challenging security landscape. The United States, under President Donald Trump, has also been tough on Islamabad, expressing its frustration over Pakistan’s failure to target terrorist networks in the region.

China, on the other hand, has been Pakistan’s close regional ally for decades and has invested heavily in the country in recent years. Currently, Beijing is spearheading a nearly $60 billion (€50 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of its gigantic Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China also wants to minimize India’s influence in the region by supporting Pakistan, a policy that analysts don’t think will drastically change in the near future.

However, experts argue that economic prosperity requires political stability. And increased political tensions mean more political instability, which would increase interference from the military establishment in political and election-related matters, Senator Akram Dashti told DW.

“The army would not leave any stone unturned to keep Sharif out. In short, the military establishment does not accept the supremacy of the civilian political parties in Pakistan because they want to call the shots in the country,” said Dashti.