The narrative of “Russian election meddling” has been reduced to a witch trial like farce in the US and Europe, with only ideologues, Russophobes and other ‘true believers’ standing by the ridiculous claims. However, when it comes to accusing Russia of meddling in an election in order to sow instability in one’s country of choice, all eyes should be on Pakistan which holds general elections in July of 2018.
Pakistan’s elections aren’t going to produce a victory for an unknown quantity in the style of Trump in the US, Brexit in the UK and the young Sebastian Kurz in Austria – all of which were absurdly blamed on “Russian meddling”. Based on current opinion polls, the Pakistani elections will be notable for the second largest party switching from the centre-left/progressive Pakistan People’s Party to the populist, big tent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). By this same logic, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) [PML-N] appears like it will retain power.
Of course, as it is in every parliamentary system, it is the arithmetic of the votes that counts more than absolute popularity. There is a very strong possibility that the PML-N may need to coalesce with smaller parties to form a government, which would not be a difficult matter to achieve in any case, assuming past allies of the PML-N perform on-par with the last election cycle. What is more interesting, is whether a PTI/PPP coalition could form.
At the moment this seems unlikely for several reasons. First of all, previous attempts have failed miserably, leading to open squabbles and allegations flying between PTI and PPP big wigs. Secondly, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has ruled out coalescing with any party, although Germany’s SPD said the same and now they are set to form a coalition with their CDU opponents. Finally, there is the matter of PTI’s credibility. PTI’s charismatic leader, former cricket superstar Imran Khan has built a career on trashing all of the establishment parties and therefore could damage his “outsider” image, were he to do what many opposition parties do and jump at a chance to attain some degree of power via a coalition with an older party, whether this is the PPP or the PML-Q.
Thus far, all of these matters concern internal issues pertaining to Pakistan’s parliamentary system. But this is where the big Russia lie could come in. The US which coined the contemporary “Russia meddles in elections” narrative, has a history of meddling in Pakistani political transitions, often with blood soaked results. Today, Pakistan is more confident and independent than in the past, but it is also in the midst of a serious downturn in relations with the US.
With the US withdrawing so-called “aid”, suspending so-called “security cooperation agreements” and publicly accusing Islamabad of harbouring terrorism, several Rubicons have been crossed and Pakistan is correctly angry with the bullying attitude of Trump’s America. At the same time, China and Russia have diplomatically defended Pakistan against American defamation, as both fellow Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) members look to increase their good ties with Islamabad.
One needn’t have a unique ability to predict the future to realise that the aforementioned reality will trigger US ire which can express itself in a variety of ways. Already, the US has shifted many of its soldiers from Iraq to Afghanistan in a clear attempt to prevent much needed Iran-Pakistan reconciliation, by awakening old ghosts in Afghanistan. What the US hasn’t counted on in Afghanistan however, is that Russia and China are both working to foment a peace process that would serve the interests of both Pakistan and Iran, as what little patience Beijing and Russia had for the US mishandling of its Afghan quagmire is running thin. Thus one sees how the US could temporarily shift its attention to Pakistan’s electoral politics.
If the US were to plant seeds among pro-US actors in Pakistan (and there are still many pro-US actors in the country, though far fewer than in previous years), that Russia is attempting to meddle in Pakistan’s elections, it could cause just the controversy needed to discredit the vote as a whole, irrespective of which party comes first, second or third.
Furthermore, because of its comparative youth as a party and because its leader is a self-styled outsider who is one part man of the people and one part glamorous celebrity, Imran Khan’s PTI could represent an easy target when it comes to fake allegations of Russian collusion. Regardless of what one thinks of Imran Khan or his party, such allegations would be unfair to him and to Pakistan as a whole, but the US and its minions could very well be in the midst of preparing such a narrative.
The only solution is for all leaders of the major Pakistani parties to stand by one another in the face of such allegations. While accusing one’s political opponents of corruption is standard in Pakistan, when it comes to the nonsensical ‘Russian myth’ everyone ought to put their foot down in unison. There are plenty of home grown scandals to accuse people of being complicit in, without having to resort to a US authored lie which seeks to prop-up the declining pro-US factions in the Pakistani deep state at the expense of Islamabad’s necessary partnerships with both China and Russia