Historically, election results have always been disputed by political parties. Parties which lost the elections have always alleged that they lost because of rigging. The many dharnas of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan were centred on this issue. Even the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) claimed that the election results were changed by returning officers in some of the constituencies. But this time around, two major parties — PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — are saying openly that pre-election rigging by the establishment is in full swing. Similar concerns have been expressed by one of Pakistan’s most respected civil society organization, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). In Punjab, the citadel of power, PML-N’s electable candidates have been forced to change their loyalties. The option for them is to either join PTI or contest as an independent candidate. Otherwise, they would be dragged into corruption cases by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). In Sindh, electables are being told to join the Grand Democratic Alliance. To remove their doubts that Mr Zardari has managed to cut a deal with the establishment, fresh cases have been opened against him and his sister. Apparently the cases are over the laundering of Rs35 billion. Sometimes, I wonder where these astronomical figures come from because no reporter asked the Federal Investigation Agency or NAB how they even arrived at the alleged figure. More than money laundering, so far these cases seem to be related to the opening of benami accounts to escape the tax net. The PPP’s Farhatullah Babar has even named some serving intelligence officials who are trying to harass and pressurise the PPP candidates into changing their loyalties. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has also come out with the name of a general. The ISPR had to hold a press conference and deny these charges. How many people in Pakistan, who have seen pre-election rigging in the past also, would accept this denial? Political engineering is not peculiar to Pakistan but is frequently used by the establishments of other countries also. They are great believers in the stupid dictum, ‘the end justifies the means’. Little do they understand that the means used to achieve the ‘end’ of their choice have their own dynamics that trigger other damaging consequences. The establishment in Pakistan has engaged in political engineering many a times. In the 60s and 80s we saw up close how it worked to divide the Sindhi and Urdu speaking population of Sindh in order to weaken the democratic movement against the military dictators in power at the time. Such policies have had dire consequences. In the 80s, the support of General Zia’s government helped a small Mohajir student body in Karachi evolve into a major fascist political party. The establishment has ruled Pakistan directly for almost half of its existence, but it has also ruled it covertly during the other half. It has retarded the growth of the democratic process in the belief that the end justifies the means. However, it has mostly failed to achieve the desired results. In the 1970 election, the ruling junta tried to engineer a hung parliament to enable General Yahya Khan to get himself elected as president. When the Awami League unexpectedly swept the polls, his government and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto tried to negotiate the terms of the future constitution outside the constituent assembly. The result was the uprising in East Bengal against the West Pakistan establishment. In the 80s, the support of General Zia’s governmenthelped a small Mohajir student body in Karachievolve into a major fascist political party In 1977, Bhutto rigged the elections on 36 National Assembly seats. The massive protest movement led by the Pakistan National Alliance allowed the cunning General Zia-ul-Haq to topple the government, impose martial law in the country and rule it for 11 years. Zia had to seek political support so he engineered non-party elections in 1985. To ensure a subservient prime minister he hand-picked Muhammad Khan Junejo for the post. However, Junejo defied the general and signed the Geneva Accord with Afghanistan. The military dictator’s political engineering had failed and he dismissed the Junejo government and parliament in 1988. Eventually he lost the support of his own constituency and was assassinated. In 1988, the establishment’s attempt to manage the election results by engineering a political alliance of the rightist parties, the Islami Jamhoori Ittihad (IJI), was only partially successful. Its objective of preventing the PPP from forming the government was not met, as it emerged as the major party in the elections. But, the establishment, tolerated the PPP government for no more than18 months and had it sacked via the notorious article 58(2b). The only major success of the establishment’s political engineering came in the 1990 elections, the results of which enabled the IJI to form the government. Political circles are of the view that the establishment’s favourite this time is the PTI. Probably, the vast number of independent candidates will join the coalition led by this party. As it is, it doesn’t seem possible for PTI to win enough seats to form the central government. Even some of the die-hard supporters of Imran Khan are not hopeful about his chances of getting the majority in the assembly. But the question here is, will Imran Khan, who is so erratic and full of himself, be able to carry the coalition government where many compromises have to be made? Although, the PTI manifesto deals with developing an institutional framework to manage foreign policy, Imran Khan usually doesn’t talk about subjects related to the relations with India, Afghanistan and Iran. On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif’s narrative is that the political government is not allowed to make decisions about crucial foreign policy issues, such as relations with India, Afghanistan and the US. To convey this message, he used this opportunity to talk to Dawn. A responsible paper, it had to face the wrath of the establishment for amplifying Nawaz Sharif’s viewpoint in this regard is another story. On the whole, the media has been complaining of the unannounced censorship imposed on it when it comes to coverage of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Safdar. In any case, now that these two PML-N leaders have offered themselves for arrest, their point of view will not get much coverage in the media. Here I would like to give full marks to Maryam, who courageously offered herself for arrest with her signature smile. The writer is author of What’s wrong with Pakistan? He can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, July 19th 2018.