How Power Works in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan does not have a tradition of political parties that survive for long on the basis of their ideas. Every few years a new political party, mostly on the right, emerges with encouragement from the permanent establishment, dominated by the military. A revolving set of turncoats and some new defectors from other parties promptly join this new king’s party. It is then fiercely pitched against the party with the largest vote bank at that particular juncture.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) came to power in 2013 with the largest share of votes. The cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (P.T.I.) party seem to be playing the part of the king’s party, trying to unseat Mr. Sharif by using the Panama Papers’ revelations of graft and money laundering against Mr. Sharif and his family. A subsequent court-ordered probe, which included investigators from Pakistan’s all-powerful intelligence agencies, has delivered a scathing report against the Sharifs.
Here’s how to get filthy rich in Pakistan: manipulate the law, get bank loans written off, use irregular accounting practices, evade tariffs and taxes and exploit labor. Mr. Sharif and his family are no different from others who are filthy rich, some of whom have joined Mr. Khan’s P.T.I.
The Election Commission of Pakistan and a court are also scrutinizing the allegations of misappropriation against Mr. Khan, including that of foreign funding for his party, which is illegal under Pakistani law.
Though Mr. Khan may be shamefaced for his soft stance on terrorist groups, he is not in the league of Pakistan’s filthy rich and does not have a reputation for large-scale financial corruption. Yet there are doubts about the motivation and outcome of his campaign against Mr. Sharif and increasing fears that Mr. Khan’s P.T.I. is the latest version of the king’s party.
These doubts and fears appear because there are no evident signs of a break from an old, familiar pattern. Mr. Khan founded the P.T.I. in 1996, and it became a club of well-meaning middle-class professionals inspired by the raw sincerity that Mr. Khan exuded. This has changed dramatically in the past six years, with his adversaries making obvious references to his party’s garnering the support of bureaucracy, military and intelligence agencies.