BY SHASHI MALLA
According to figures provided by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the “Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf” (PTI/The Movement for Justice) party was declared the single largest party in the country following the July 25 general elections to parliament. It garnered 115 of the 270 National Assembly seats that were contested, falling short of the 137 mark required for a clear majority. However, having received the support of 13 independent candidates so far, the PTI took its tally to 136, expecting to rope in a further 10 in the next few days.
The PTI has confirmed that it had secured the requisite number of seats to form the government both at the centre and in the Punjab province – the most populous, prosperous and significant. A party spokesman claimed that the PTI received the support of many as 168 out of the 328-330 lawmakers that have been constituted in the National Assembly following the July 25 general elections after counting the allocation of the reserved seats.
The PTI was galloping towards forming the central government by securing the support of 7 independent members, 6 from the “Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan” (MQM-P), 4 from the “Pakistan Muslim League—Quaid-e-Azam” (PML-Q), and 2 each from the “Balochistan Awami Party” (BAP) and the “Grand Democratic Alliance”. The PML-Q had declared its support after the PTI had assured it of receiving charge of various ministries at the centre and in Punjab.
The MQM-P won 4 National Assembly seats from Karachi and Hyderabad (in Sind province, the stronghold of the “Pakistan People’s Party”/PPP and the Bhutto clan), taking their tally up to 6, a stark reduction when compared to the 24 they won in 2013 – a loss suffered at the hands of the PTI which had made major inroads. Regardless, the MQM-P has become a major player in the political scene and in the ‘numbers game’ as the PTI itself lacked a clear majority to form the government at the centre.
While the lower house of parliament (national Assembly) is made up of 342 seats, 10 seats would remain vacant owing to candidates being elected from more than one constituency
(including Imran Khan himself, who won in 5 constituencies!), and the election for the remaining two seats being postponed by the election commission.
Meanwhile, the PTI also claimed that it had ensured the backing of nearly 180 lawmakers in Punjab, where a party needs to secure at least 149 seats out of 297 that constitute the assembly in the country’s most populous province of consequence – and also the bastion of the Sharif clan. Although the breakdown of the PTI’s numbers in Punjab is still nebulous, the party’s media department stated that several elected members of the province assembly had already declared their support for the party following a meeting with party chairman Imran Khan.
The former dominant party – both at the centre and in Punjab – the “Pakistan Muslim League—Nawaz” (PML-N) had again emerged as the leading party in Punjab having secured 129 seats, while the PTI was hot on its heels with 123. However, the PTI building the virtual government-in-waiting at the centre, had the political edge. Till date, it had already secured the support of 13 independent candidates, taking heir tally to 136. It was expecting to rope in a further 10 members very soon, and with the help of 8 further members of the “ Pakistan Muslim League—Quaid-e-Azam” (PML-Q), the PTI was now within range of also establishing a majority in the strategic province.
In the meantime, an alliance of 11 opposition political parties have announced that they will be holding demonstrations across the country to protest alleged electoral fraud during the July 25 general elections. These opposition parties have called themselves the “Pakistan Alliance for Free and Fair Election” (PAFF) and include former PM Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, the PPP led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and an alliance of five religious parties, “Muttahida Majlis-e-Alam (MMA). The first protests are expected to start on August 8 outside the Election Commission in Islamabad and also outside Election Commission offices across the country.
In the meantime, Imran Khan has not even been sworn in (probably on August 11), and the US is trying to bully Pakistan with empty China threats. Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that a prospective International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout of Pakistan would be conditional on the country’s promise to ensure that none of the money would be used to repay Chinese debt. With Pakistan’s finances in crisis, Khan may have little choice but to seek an estimated US Dollar 14 billion balance of payments support programme from the IMF. Asad Umar, the finance minister-in-waiting has said succinctly: “There are no quick fixes, no silver bullet to solve Pakistan’s economic problems. What is needed is a comprehensive set of policy reforms, and then to ensure its implementation through a pre-defined set of key performance indicators.”
In the realm of foreign affairs, Khan had already indicated his [continuing] transformation from a mere politician to a statesman in his acceptance speech. Initially, he may have to follow the powerful military’s primacy, but with time he is bound to enjoy more leeway considering his electoral success and his charisma, which even the army chief and the head of the muscular and shadowy military intelligence agency (ISI) cannot match. Then, there is the overpowering nexus between economic and foreign policy and the military cannot compartmentalize, if it has the national security interests of the country at heart. Although the military is overwhelmingly involved in very many businesses, it does not possess the overall economic expertise to inspire and lead the way in national economic and financial policy. If some generals think otherwise, they will become ‘a jack of all trades, and master of none’ — to the detriment of the country.
In his speech, Khan spoke at length on China first, followed by the need for peace in Afghanistan, a balanced relationship with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, and then India. The United States came last, and that too in the context of its role in Afghanistan, in a perceived and significant plunge in importance in a country which previously was America’s strongest strategic partner in the region. Khan has remembered Trump’s taunt for Pakistan’s alleged duplicity while being a major recipient of US military and development aid over the last 15 years.
Saudi Coalition Escalates War in Yemen
Medical workers have said that war planes of the Saudi-led coalition fired more than two dozen missiles into the rebel-held port-city of Hodeidah last Thursday, pounding the fish market, the entrance to the main Al Thawrah Public Hospital and a security compound in atrocious strikes that killed at least 30 people and wounded 50 others. However, a Saudi commander, Colonel Turki al-Malki claimed: “Coalition did not carry out any operations in Hodeidah today . . . Houthi militia are behind killing of civilians . . .” Moreover, “The Coalition follows a strict and transparent approach based on the rules of international law.”[!] Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Sunni Muslim allies have been fighting in Yemen with Western backing (mainly the US and UK) for more than three years against the Iran-aligned Shia Houthis. The Houthis are after all indigenous Yeminis. Neutral political observers have been asking with what right the Saudis and the Emiratis are interfering in a civil war and fighting on behalf of one side far from their own shores. Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are touted as modernistic, progressive and futuristic cities pointing the way to the Arab world. How do they square this attitude with their blatant
interference in the poorest country of the Arab world — bringing death, disease and destruction instead of peace and development?
The stepped-up escalation of the war followed a week of tensions in which Saudi Arabia accused the Houthi-led government, which also controls Hodeidah, of attacking a Saudi oil vessel in a Red Sea shipping lane. Aid agencies have been sharply criticizing the Saudi-led coalition, responsible for the acute civilian suffering in the region, which the coalition has been threatening to invade for months. Hodeidah is the main conduit for supplies to Yemen, including food and medicine. The Red Sea port accounts for about 70 percent of Yemen’s imports, in a country where two-thirds of the 29 million people (approximately the same population as Nepal) are dependent on international aid.. According to aid workers, around 8.4 million people are believed to be on the verge of starvation. The Houthis had offered to hand over the management of the port to the United Nations, but the Saudi-led coalition, of course, rejected this development as they had their own axe to grind. Instead, they demanded that the Houthis exit the entire western coast [of their own country and leave it to foreign invaders!].
The Saudi and Emirati governments launched the attack against Hodeidah this June in order to tip the balance in their favour. And this in spite of international criticism as the military campaign could endanger the lives of the 600,000 residents of the port city and disrupt humanitarian supplies for millions others in the country. After less than a month, the Saudi-led coalition (neither efficient militarily nor battle-hardened) has been bogged down and are now – thankfully – suing for peace. They now support a United Nations-led initiative to find a political situation, and before that to reach a wider ceasefire.
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