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Imran Khan-backed candidates spring surprise in Pakistan elections: End of military's political dominance?

The article examines Pakistan's 2024 election upheaval, challenging the military's political dominance through the unexpected success of independent candidates backed by Imran Khan.

Imran Khan-backed candidates spring surprise in Pakistan elections: End of military's political dominance snt
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First Published Feb 11, 2024, 10:03 PM IST

In a surprising turn of events, the recently concluded general elections in Pakistan have delivered a significant blow to the established political order, challenging the traditionally dominant role of the military in shaping the country's political landscape. Independent candidates, largely backed by the jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, have emerged victorious, disrupting the expected comeback narrative of three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, widely seen as the military's preferred candidate.

Pakistan's political history has been marked by periods of military rule or the ascendancy of candidates supported by the military establishment. The 2018 elections saw Imran Khan as the army's favored candidate, leading his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to become the single-largest party in the National Assembly. However, Khan's falling out with the army chief led to his removal from power, paving the way for Nawaz Sharif's return to political prominence.

Also read: Pakistan Elections 2024: Imran Khan's PTI demands CEC's resignation amid rigging allegations and protests

In an unexpected twist, Nawaz Sharif, historically at odds with the military, decided to forge an alliance with the establishment in 2023. Despite this calculated move, the 2024 elections did not unfold as anticipated, leaving Sharif's Pakistan League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 75 seats, trailing behind the independent candidates supported by Imran Khan's PTI, who secured 101 seats.

In Pakistan, there's a saying that the military has never won a war but never lost an election. However, the unexpected outcome of the 2024 general election has dealt a significant blow to the army, whose political allies typically secure victory, marking a notable departure from the norm.

Analysts point to the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as key indicators of a shift in public sentiment against the military's narrative. These regions, often considered strongholds of the military and the deep state, have seemingly rebelled and rejected the traditional influence of the military in shaping political outcomes.

The Observer Research Foundation (ORF) highlights a critical aspect in this electoral surprise – the evolving dynamics of information. The report suggests that the military, like other establishments worldwide, must adapt to the reality that information can no longer be controlled as it once was. The inability to adjust to this new reality may lead to unforeseen challenges and potential political setbacks.

"Like establishments in rest of the world, the Pakistani military also needs to understand that information can no longer be controlled like it could be in the past. The states and establishments that are unable to adjust to this new reality and continue to use old formula, will have them explode in their faces," the report said.

Despite facing numerous setbacks, including heading into the elections with a symbol-less party, legal battles, and a lack of prominent faces, Imran Khan's popularity among the Pakistani electorate has endured. His success at the polls has raised questions about the military's control over the narrative and its ability to sway public opinion.

Also read: Pakistan Elections 2024: Courts in Pakistan flood with petitions challenging general election results

While PML-N may attempt to form a government with the support of allies and independents, the ORF report suggests that such an arrangement may not be politically tenable or sustainable. This raises the question of whether the military, symbolized by figures like Gen Asim Munir, has lost its grip on the political narrative and the ability to dictate election outcomes.

The 2024 general elections in Pakistan have unveiled a significant departure from the expected political trajectory, challenging the historical influence of the military in shaping the country's politics. The success of independent candidates backed by Imran Khan raises questions about the evolving dynamics of information, public sentiment, and the military's control over the narrative. As Pakistan navigates this uncharted political terrain, the outcomes of this election could signal a shift in the power dynamics that have long defined the nation's political landscape.

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