Politics in Pakistan: Navigating the Zero-Sum Game

The term 'zero-sum game' appropriately describes Pakistani politics' complex dynamics.

The prevailing dynamics in the complex landscape of Pakistani politics can be accurately described as a "zero-sum game." This idea suggests that when one party or individual achieves political gains, it is at the direct cost of another. With the 12th general elections approaching on February 8, there are growing concerns about the fairness and transparency of the upcoming vote. The lingering historical precedents of electoral manipulation only add to these worries.

Power rivalries and charges of manipulation have shaped Pakistan's political scene, making winning seem vital, even if it means losing others.

The political climate in Pakistan has been characterised by a series of power struggles and allegations of manipulation, fostering a competitive atmosphere where victory seems to take precedence, even at the expense of others. The current situation involving Imran Khan, the charismatic leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), highlights a mentality that revolves around a zero-sum game. Khan, a former cricket captain turned politician, has been in custody since August 2023, facing a multitude of charges, including corruption and the disclosure of state secrets. His party members, feeling pressured, have either joined rival parties or gone into hiding.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has rejected the nomination papers of numerous PTI candidates, including Khan, raising worries about electoral fairness.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has dismissed the nomination papers of several PTI candidates, including Khan, raising concerns about the fairness of the electoral process. The PTI, which came out on top in the 2018 elections amidst allegations of military interference, is currently facing internal conflicts, legal disputes, and threats to its iconic cricket bat emblem.

Shayan Bashir, PTI’s information secretary in Punjab, highlights the unique nature of his party's current treatment in Pakistan's history. Claims of snatching nomination papers, selecting candidates based on police reports, and widespread rejection of nominations lend support to the notion that PTI is encountering a challenging situation.

Concerns about election manipulation in Pakistan are nothing new. There have been instances of manipulation and meddling throughout the nation's electoral history. While local and international observers expressed concerns about the fairness of the elections in 2018, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan decided to overthrow the elected government in 1990. Experts argue that the present election climate reflects familiar trends of manipulation, but with a more robust pushback and an intensified narrative of victimisation, especially from the PTI.

Political analyst Tahir Mehdi has a different perspective on the current state of affairs, preferring to use the term 'election engineering.

Political analyst Tahir Mehdi has a different perspective on the current state of affairs, preferring to use the term "election engineering." He observes that although traditional strategies are still being employed, there has been a clear rise in opposition, and the PTI has effectively promoted its narrative of being a victim.

Ammar Ali Jan argues a broader political and societal transformation in Pakistan. He believes governmental inconsistencies have increased, causing social and institutional animosity.

Ammar Ali Jan, a historian and politician, highlights the presence of a significant political and social transformation currently taking place in Pakistan. According to his analysis, there has been a noticeable increase in contradictions within the state, leading to heightened tension in both society and institutions. Jan sees the impending elections as a completely absurd situation where political parties put themselves above democracy.

The upcoming elections will be crucial as Pakistan struggles with a zero-sum political paradigm.

In the midst of Pakistan's struggle with a divisive political mindset, the upcoming elections will play a crucial role in shaping the future. The future direction of the country's political model depends on the decisions made by both political leaders and the electorate. It remains to be seen whether they will continue with the current win-lose paradigm or opt for a more collaborative and inclusive approach. Embracing a new approach involves fostering open communication, working together, and envisioning a strong and prosperous Pakistan.


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