Pakistan to mark Independence Day amid political row

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Pakistan is going to celebrate its 71st Independence Day on Aug. 14 amid political tensions in the country stemmed from July 25 elections, which are tainted by allegations of “rigging” and “manipulation.”

The South Asian nuclear nation, according to local analysts, is currently grappling with a deepening political crisis that may exacerbate the existing polarization in coming months following the opposition parties’ campaign against alleged rigging.

So much so, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, the president of Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA), a five-party religious alliance, announced last week: “We will not celebrate the Independence Day this year, but will launch a struggle for real independence.”

He was referring to the country’s powerful military establishment, which according to opposition parties, have “engineered” the elections in favor of one party — the center-right Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

“We are celebrating our Independence Day when the country is passing through a post-truth era. The July 25 elections have further deepened the political divide instead of settling it down,” Sajjad Mir, a Lahore-based political commentator, told Anadolu Agency.

“This political divide, which will take time to settle, may fan the existing polarization in the country,” Mir said.

Mubashir Zaidi — a Karachi-based political analyst — also sees a rise in political tensions in days to come.

“There is so much polarization, mainly on the political front, which I think is going to mount if some serious steps are not taken to address the opposition’s rigging allegations. Some of them are legitimate,” Zaidi, who is also a famous TV host, told Anadolu Agency.

The PTI, led by former cricket star Imran Khan, is all set to form the government for the next five years with the help of several smaller parties after it emerged as the single largest party in the last month’s elections by securing 116 out of 272 general seats of the lower house — the National Assembly.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) of the jailed ex-premier Nawaz Sharif trailed in second with 64 seats, whereas the center-left Pakistan People’s party (PPP) and the MMA could grab 43 and 11 seats, respectively.

The opposition parties have already formed an eleven-party “Grand Opposition Alliance,” which has rejected the election results and vowed to continue their protests across the country, apart from demanding of the election commission officials to step down.

However, the election commission has rejected the opposition’s demand, calling the elections “free and fair.”

Not only the opposition parties but several international media outlets and observers — such as European Union Observers Mission — have found “irregularities” in pre- and post-election process, including non-provision of “level-playing field to all the participants”.

– Unity

Mir thinks the nation feels “exhausted” by the simmering political divide, and looking for a “miracle” to steer the country out of this imbroglio.

“But, miracles do not happen very often. It’s only the democratic forces, which through their unity, can tackle this situation,” he maintained.

“The undemocratic forces, which unfortunately derail the democratic system considering themselves on the right side after every one or two decades, have to refrain from hindering the process,” he went on to say in a veiled reference to the country’s powerful military.

Pakistan has lived under military rule for almost half its history since 1947 — the year the country came into being following the end of the British colonial era in the sub-continent.

Zaidi appreciates the opposition parties, which have announced to take up the rigging issue in the parliament.

“I think this is a very wise step, which can give the country a way out. If this issue continues to be on the streets, it may turn out to be a political debacle,” he said.

Fawwad Chaudhry, a PTI spokesman, told local Geo TV that his party had no objection over the opposition’s call for constituting a parliamentary commission to probe allegations of vote rigging.

Zaidi thinks the current political divide may hit the country’s international interests, “where much is happening and changing”.

“Daunting challenges are awaiting (the new government). The economy is already sliding, relations with the United States are all-time worse, Taliban are reportedly negotiating directly with the U.S, and ties with India are already not good,” he observed.

The United States has started cutting scores of Pakistani military officers from its education and training program, dealing another blow to already deteriorating ties between the two former allies in the war on terror.

The move came a few days after Pakistan and Russia signed an agreement to allow Pakistani military officers to receive training in Russian military institutions.

To beam its tottering economy, Islamabad has reportedly approached the Riyadh-based Islamic Development Fund for a $4 billion loan as the country’s foreign reserves stand at merely $10 billion.

“In given circumstances, Pakistan has to put its house in order to meet these challenges. The new government cannot afford a row with political parties,” Zaidi observed.