By unquestioningly embracing political objectives imposed by unelected forces, our entire state apparatus has been operating with the subtlety of a bulldozer. Nowhere is this more evident than in the federal and provincial capitals. Their interim administrations have shown no remorse for their double standards, as they enforce stricter rules for the PTI while affording other political parties more latitude.
Just last week, a dozen PTI supporters were apprehended outside the National Press Club in Islamabad, where they had gathered to voice their support for the Palestinian cause. The party and its supporters had a legitimate reason to react with indignation. No other religious or political entity appears to have faced a similar treatment recently as they engaged in political outreach activities or organized rallies for the people of Gaza. Denying one party the privileges enjoyed by others appears petty and smacks of victimization.
More recently, the Lahore administration has displayed a great deal of enthusiasm for the PML-N’s plans for a grand rally at the Minar-i-Pakistan, while simultaneously denying the PTI a similar gathering at Liberty Chowk. This situation has made it abundantly clear why the PML-N’s political rivals fear there won’t be a ‘level playing field’ in the upcoming general election.
Both the PTI and the PPP have raised questions about the circumstances under which Nawaz Sharif has ‘agreed’ to return to the country from his self-imposed exile. Both parties believe that Sharif’s return is the result of an alleged covert deal with the ‘concerned quarters,’ meaning the security establishment. They are also justified in asking why an individual who is a proclaimed offender and has been evading the Pakistani justice system is being ‘welcomed’ by the state upon his long-delayed return with pomp and pageantry rather than a solemn reckoning with the law.
Unless the state immediately ceases its manipulation of the political landscape, there is a significant risk that the upcoming elections will be mired in intense controversies, preventing a civilian-led government from standing on its own feet, much like the 2018 elections. If the country is to be governed by a political leadership with a democratically acquired mandate and free from interference by unaccountable elites, we must prioritize allowing the people to choose their leaders.
Finally, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the caretaker governments should acknowledge their mistakes. They have constitutional duties to fulfill, which they appear to be failing quite spectacularly.