South Asia and Beyond

Why Pakistan’s Election Results Are Making Some US Lawmakers Wary

When newly-elected lawmakers took oath in the Pakistan National Assembly on February 29, 2024, it came amidst slogans in support of Imran Khan. “Kaun bachayega Pakistan? PTI, PTI,” (Imran Khan’s party is PTI – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf), shouted some newly elected members. It was also the first time in seven years that Nawaz Sharif walked into the National Assembly. He was forced to step down as PM after he was disqualified in 2017.

Pakistan will get a new Prime Minister in Shehbaz Sharif once again but these elections have been hugely controversial – from polling day till after counting of votes. Imran Khan’s party – PTI – lost its election symbol before the election. Voting day began with a shutdown of internet and cellular services due to ‘security reasons’. There were allegations of unexplained delays in counting. Election results were marred by serious allegations of rigging. Former Rawalpindi commissioner Liaquat Ali Chattha alleged that candidates who were ‘losing’ were made to ‘win’, after which the election commission also decided to start a probe of its own.

The performance of extremist parties has also been worth tracking. The Pak Markazi Muslim League was backed by LeT chief Hafiz Saeed. It hasn’t won a single seat. Siraj-ul-Haq, who contested from the Jamaat-e-Islami Pak lost his own seat. The party has won just 5 provincial seats. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazi (JUIF), headed by Fazl-ur-Rehman won four national and 18 provincial seats. The Pak Rah-e-Haq Party, which is a faction of the JUIF, is headed by Hakeem Qasmi. This party has picked up just one provincial seat in Balochistan. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pak has drawn a black in both national and provincial polls.

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An election that many thought was a done deal in favour of Nawaz Sharif, threw up some spectacular surprises among widespread allegations of rigging. 93 independents backed by Imran Khan’s party won the polls, pushing PML-N and PPP to the second and third place respectively. PML-N has won 79 seats and the PPP has picked up 54 seats.

Though Sharif’s PML-N and Bilawal Bhutto’s PPP will form a coalition government, 31 US Congress lawmakers have urged President Biden not to recognise the new government in Pakistan. These include the likes of Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Rashida Tlaib among others.

The letter also called on Biden to communicate to Pakistani authorities that the potential suspension of military and other forms of cooperation could be employed by Washington if necessary corrective measures were not taken.