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Pakistan’s Middle-Class Rage Against Military Rule

This month’s general election dealt a historic blow to the Pakistani military, with candidates backed by imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan winning more seats than any other political bloc. But the regime will likely respond by cracking down on Khan’s supporters, setting the stage for more political turmoil.

OXFORD – Pakistan’s general election on February 8, marred by allegations of widespread voting irregularities, resulted in a hung parliament and the formation of a coalition government consisting of the country’s two major dynastic parties. Nevertheless, the outcome represents a stunning defeat for the country’s powerful military, as candidates backed by the imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf Party (PTI) secured more parliamentary seats than any other political bloc despite a two-year crackdown on its voters and supporters.

Although PTI did not win enough seats to form a government on its own, its unexpectedly strong performance – the party was officially barred from participating in the election – underscores Khan’s popular appeal. In the run-up to the vote, PTI members and supporters have faced imprisonment, harassment, and the destruction of their businesses. On election day itself, cellular services were disabled in a last-ditch effort to disrupt turnout efforts. But despite these obstacles, Pakistani voters delivered a historic blow to the military, whose political interference met little resistance over the last three decades.

More than a competition between political parties, the Pakistani election represented a confrontation between those who oppose the military’s increasingly blatant political meddling and those who collaborate with it to gain personal and professional benefits. But the outcome raises an important question: Why has the regime encountered such widespread opposition now, particularly in regions long considered bastions of military support?