Prime minister Imran Khan

Pakistan is in deep political crisis after elections did not produce the result the ruling class and the military wanted. The country of 250 million neighbours Iran and turmoil at the top will flow into the upheavals across the region. 

Candidates loyal to imprisoned former prime minister Imran Khan won a shock victory in voting this week, defying a campaign of arrests and harassment.

Independents backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party are set to be the largest group in parliament. But they fell short of a majority and other parties will try to block them from taking office.

The expected winner, another ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, has simply ignored reality and claimed to have won.

Khan is not left wing. But he has clashed with the US over Ukraine and sections of the ruling class don’t trust him to hold down insurgency from below.

The state jailed him for the last eight months on made-up charges of revealing government secrets.

Khan was accused of leaking a private cable in 2022 from Pakistan’s then-ambassador to the United States, about a meeting with a senior US state department official. Khan argued that he had a duty to make the cable’s contents public, claiming that it exposed a US plot to oust him from power

In addition, Khan was recently sentenced to jail terms totalling 31 years. They are for profiting from gifts given to him in his official capacity, leaking state secrets and marrying his wife before 40 days had elapsed after her divorce.

The fact Khan could mobilise enough votes despite these obstacles will terrify the political class. The military has always played a huge role in Pakistan and it might decide what happens next.

Since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has been under military dictatorship for a total of 34 years. When not directly in power, the military elite bully civilian governments from behind the scenes.

No prime minister has ever completed a five-year tenure, but three out of four military dictators managed to rule for more than nine years each.

On Saturday General Syed Asim Munir said, “The nation needs stable hands and a healing touch to move on from the politics of anarchy and polarisation.” He wants Khan crushed and a governing lash-up of the other parties.

The horse-trading has already begun. Sharif’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, met late on Friday former president Asif Ali Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

The Bhutto-Zardaris run the PPP party, which has 53 seats so far. Sharif’s PMLN has 74. They could try to win over MPs to create a coalition.

The independents, meanwhile, have around 100 seats and have to tell the National Assembly within 72 hours if they have joined a party or want to maintain their independent status.

For ordinary people, the most pressing issues are soaring prices—inflation is around 40 percent—and continuing poverty. Students, trade unionists and others protested in January in the city of Rawalpindi and in the national capital Islamabad over food prices, unemployment, and economic hardships.

There have also been demonstrations about “disappearances” and killings carried out by the military.

The US, Britain and the European Union are watching the election aftermath with concern that their friends could lose control. 

Foreign secretary David Cameron felt forced to say there were “serious concerns” about the way the elections were held and counted. He raised questions “about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections”.

The Israeli genocide in Gaza, and the Western attacks in Iraq, Yemen and Syria are creating a potential for wider wars across the region.

 The militaries of Iran and Pakistan fired missiles at each other earlier this month. Each side said it was targeting separatist groups that it alleges the other country allows to operate in their territory.

Amid the manoeuvres at the top in Pakistan, only action by workers and the poor in their own interests offers a way forward.

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