Pakistan Elections: How Imran Khan Won With the Army’s Help

Imran Khan transformed from a liberal to a conservative, in order to get the Army on his side, to help him win.

4 min read
Hindi Female

Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician is all set to become Pakistan’s new Prime Minister. Khan’s party – the PTI – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice) has secured over a hundred seats, as per initial results released by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

But the PTI may need the support of other, smaller political parties, as results currently show that Khan’s party did not win the required majority needed to form the government.


But Khan’s victory is not a simple case of him winning at the ballot boxes.

There are widespread accusations of post-poll rigging. Almost all major political parties in the country are questioning the results already, especially the delay in announcing the final outcome.

The official results usually start coming in a few hours after the voting ends, but this time around, there has been a significant delay. There are also allegations that the Election Commission did not allow political parties’ representatives to be present during the vote count. The Election Commission has rejected all such claims, but has accepted that there were technical difficulties, which has led to the confusion and the delay.

However, given that the runner up in these elections – the political party led by the Sharif brothers, called the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz) has rejected the election results – the coming days may see growing political instability in Pakistan, instead of a peaceful transition to the new government led by Imran Khan.


Alleged Foul Play in Pakistan Elections

But it is not just the polling day which has been fraught with cries of foul play. Leading up to 25 July 2018, there were clear signs that Imran Khan was being propped up by the Pakistan military, which did not want the PML-N to return to power. Nawaz Sharif had challenged the military hegemony over foreign and domestic policy, when he was the Prime Minister in the last government.

Sharif had a fall out with the Generals due to a number of reasons, especially with regard to Sharif’s vision of trying to improve relations with India. He also wanted civilian supremacy to prevail, and tried to initiate a treason case against General Pervez Musharraf, the former Pakistani Army Chief, and the country’s last military dictator, who ousted Sharif’s government in 1999 in a coup.

How did the Pakistan Army help Khan win the 2018 elections, which many observers have called the dirtiest elections in the history of the country?

To begin with, the judiciary was activated against the previous ruling party and a weak judicial case was used to disqualify Nawaz Sharif, and eventually jail him and his daughter — Maryam Nawaz — who is considered next in line as the leader of the PML-N.

Then a number of candidates from the previous ruling party of Nawaz were intimidated and forced to desert the PML-N. Finally, the local media was silenced, so that pre-election rigging would not be reported, and also in some cases, the media complained of being asked to show Imran Khan and his party in a positive light — and to either censor Nawaz Sharif, or only cover him and his party negatively.


Imran Khan: A Journey from Progress to Medievalism

Such manipulations ensured that Khan became popular, and his rhetoric of making a naya Pakistan (new Pakistan) resonated with the Pakistani public. But along the way, he made many compromises to be able to have a chance at winning. He was known to be a liberal man with progressive values, but in recent years, he transformed his image to that of a conservative populist, supporting draconian laws like the blasphemy law.

Moreover, Imran Khan became an apologist for the extremists and militants fighting in neighbouring regions like Afghanistan and Kashmir, calling their struggle legitimate, instead of pointing out the role of the Pakistan military in sponsoring such proxies.

Khan also tried to perpetuate conspiracy theories of how Pakistan is a victim of international powers trying to destabilize the country, and thereby reinforcing the flawed narratives Pakistanis believe in. This has brought in further intellectual deprivation, especially among the Pakistani youth.

Given these compromises, Imran Khan had a sure-shot chance at victory, as he ticked all the right boxes for the military to allow him to rise to power. This also makes him appear as subservient to its dominance, in running Pakistan’s affairs.

But this amicable relationship may not last too long, and Khan may soon face what his previous political opponents have experienced, when it comes to leading the Parliament.


No ‘Better’ Pakistan in Sight

Whenever the Pakistan Army brings in a new political order — and it has been doing this since the last 40 years or so — they lay out the dos and the don’ts of what it means to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan. However, it has often been seen, that after a short stint in the PM’s office, this ‘puppet leadership’ tries to spread its wings, and when these wings are clipped, there is a clash.

Imran Khan’s voters and supporters are in for an expected shock, given that many of them have voted for him and his party, expecting a better Pakistan.

But if he does not address the core issue of civil-military imbalance in the country, and makes policies independent of the military’s vested interests, there can be little change expected. And if Imran Khan does address it, he will not last too long in office, or at least will not be able to run his government smoothly.

So, it is the Pakistan Army that has come out as a victor in this election, as it has ensured a leadership that will serve its interests, and till it does, things will be good for Khan. But the day Khan decides to challenge the Army, he will face the same fate that the Sharifs, and the Bhuttos met in the past.

(Taha Siddiqui is an award-winning Pakistani journalist and founder of He tweets @TahaSSiddiqui. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:  Imran Khan   Nawaz Sharif   Pakistan Army 

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