Pakistani Youth Regard the Military With Fear Rather Than Security. Here’s Why.

Photo via RFERL

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As the polls closed on February 8th, most of the Pakistani population faced frustration. The Election Commission of Pakistan did not reveal the results until after nearly three days of suspense. This election was one of clear significance in the history of Pakistan, as the growing corruption of the country’s frail democracy is coming to light, so much so that a new era in history marks the youths’ perception of the military in a negative way, rather than the security and protection that inherently should take its place.

Before one can begin to understand the Pakistani government, one must understand how the distribution of political power operates. On paper, a multiparty democracy is still developing. The reality is that the government is multifaceted, with most politicians coming to power as a mask, a front-line defense that someone can point the finger at so that those who run the show do not need to take accountability. The Establishment is a euphemism given to this group, which predominantly entails the military and the wealthy elite. For a long time, Pakistan has faced challenges of instability. Still, the recent political uproar has invoked the general population to reject the Establishment’s decision-making power and question its continued existence.

Most, if not all, politicians come into power through favoritism demonstrated by the Establishment. Undoubtedly, this is how the famous Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister, must have originally been elected. Since then, he has been incarcerated on multiple accounts, such as corruption. He repeatedly blamed the military for his removal. The people loved him for many reasons, one being how he neglected the tradition of dynastic politics and advocated for removing Establishment power within the government, the institution that got him to where he is now. The movement escalated after his arrest on May 9th, resulting in riots and protests conveying discontent. Pakistanis have not allowed his arrest to be in vain, keeping his party the number one political party in Pakistan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf (PTI). The influence he held over the electorate can be seen during election day, even with numerous allegations of rigging and misconduct during elections, independents that registered in place of his party accounted for a sweeping victory during the February 8th parliamentary elections. 

What once was a hesitancy to acknowledge the existing Military’s prominent role in running Pakistan has become a countrywide, direct rebellion against it. This is not the beginning of the resistance to military rule, but it marks a point in history when the people acted against the election system, which allowed the Establishment to hand their preferred puppet a position in office. PTI won the most seats, wiping the floor with the other two parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). 

The delay in the election results is not the only thing that caused people’s suspicion for rigging and votes falling through, but also the fact that phone services, which is the primary source of keeping up with the election media, had suddenly gone out on election day. The justification followed that it was conducted to preserve order, intending to mitigate the effects of political backlash

The opening of the wounds that have existed within Pakistan’s political history has served to exacerbate the instability that Pakistan faces. The country is now facing a political crisis and has yet to recover from recession, high inflation, damage from the floods that overtook over a third of the country in 2023, etc. Pakistans are beginning to lose their faith in the future of democracy. 

Author of “Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Political-Military Economy,” Ayesha Siddiqa emphasizes Pakistan’s new political paradigm, where “There is a new generation that doesn’t see the military as something that rescues them from bad politicians — it is seen as an institution which is part of the trouble.” The lack of success in suppressing PTI and the general population completely backfired on the Establishment, leading to much uncertainty about what the future holds. The Military is growing increasingly unpopular, and there are many possibilities for the establishment’s next move. They could increase their power under the same line of “preserving order,” imposing martial law. On the other hand, they could attempt to reconcile by removing themselves from such high authority in Politics for the country’s best interests and to calm unrest.

I, myself, am proudly from Pakistan and have been continuously distraught to witness the political corruption ensuing amidst so many other crises which have caused the instability of my country. This shift in generational perception may finally be the key to dismantling the facade of the Pakistani government. After all, the first step to solving a problem is recognition of it.

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This article was edited by Bowen Yao.