Pakistani Prime Minister Anwaar-ul Haq Kakar addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Friday. AP
Pakistan’s Interim Prime Minister Anwaar-ul Haq Kakar said he expects parliamentary elections to take place in the new year, dismissing the possibility that the country’s powerful military would manipulate the results to ensure that jailed former premier Imran Khan’s party doesn’t win.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Kakar said it’s the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that is going to conduct the vote, not the military, and Imran appointed the commission’s chief at the time, so "why would he turn in any sense of the word against him?”
Pakistan has been in deepening political turmoil since April 2022 when Imran was removed from office following a no-confidence vote in Parliament. He was arrested in early August on corruption charges and sentenced to three years in prison, later suspended though he still remains in jail. The country is also facing one of the worst economic crises in its history and recovering from last summer’s devastating floods that killed at least 1,700 people and destroyed millions of homes and farmland.
The ECP announced on Thursday the elections would take place during the last week in January, delaying the vote which was to be held in November under the constitution.
Kakar resigned as a senator last month after outgoing prime minister Shahbaz Sharif and opposition leader Raja Riaz chose him as caretaker prime minister to oversee the elections and run the day-to-day affairs until a new government is elected.
He said that when the commission sets an exact election date his government "will provide all the assistance, financial, security or other related requirements.”
Asked whether he would recommend judges overturn Imran Khan’s conviction so he could run in the elections, the prime minister said he wouldn't interfere with decisions by the judiciary. He stressed that the judiciary should not be used "as a tool for any political ends.”
"We are not pursuing anyone on a personal vendetta,” Kakar said. "But yes, we will ensure that the law is appropriate. Anyone, be it Imran Khan or any other politician who violates, in terms of their political behavior, the laws of the country, then the restoration of the law has to be ensured. We cannot equate that with … political discrimination.”
He said fair elections can take place without Imran or hundreds of members of his party who are jailed because they engaged in unlawful activities including vandalism and arson, in reference to the violence that rocked the country following Imran's initial arrest in May. He added that the thousands of people in ̛Imran’s party who didn't engage in unlawful activities, "will be running the political process, they will be participating in the elections.”
The Pakistani military has been behind the rise and fall of governments, with some of Imran’s supporters suggesting there is de facto military rule in Pakistan and that democracy is under threat.
Kakar, who reportedly has close ties to the military, said those allegations are "part and parcel of our political culture," to which he pays no attention. He called his government’s working relationship with the military "very smooth,” as well as "very open and candid.” "We do have challenges of civil-military relationships, I’m not denying that,” he said, but there are very different reasons for the imbalance. He said he believes, after one month leading the government, that civil institutions in Pakistan have "deteriorated in terms of performance for the last many decades” while the military is disciplined, has organisational capabilities and has improved over the past four decades.
The solution, Kakar said, is to gradually improve the performance of the civilian institutions "rather than weakening the current military organisation, because that’s not going to solve any of our problems.”
As for Pakistan’s relations with neighbouring Afghanistan — under the Taliban rule since 2021 following US and Nato withdrawal — Kakar said "there are some serious security challenges” from the Afghan side, pointing to the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, Daesh and other extremist groups, who at times vie for influence with each other.
When asked whether the government had requested the Taliban to extradite the leadership and fighters from the TTP, he said they are in contact with authorities in Kabul, "but there is nothing specific which I can share with you.”
Kakar was a little-known first-time senator from Pakistan's least-populated, least-developed province when he was tapped to be the caretaker prime minister. "It’s a huge privilege,” he said. "I feel I never deserved it. It’s just a divine blessing.”
By law, he can’t contest the elections when he’s interim prime minister, but Kakar said in the future he hopes "to play a constructive political role in my society.”Associated Press
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