Imran Khan, Elected as Prime Minister, Offers Little Conciliation to Foes

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Imran Khan, the charismatic cricketer-turned-politician, was elected prime minister on Friday in an acrimonious vote in the lower house of Parliament that was punctuated by partisan shouting.

“Those people who have looted the country, I promise that they will be brought to justice,” Mr. Khan said in a brief speech after the vote, repeating an anti-corruption campaign theme and offering little conciliation to his adversaries.

Surrounded by loyalists as the opposition’s sloganeering grew louder, he added: “No one has ever been able to blackmail me before. I tell you please go ahead and protest and hit the streets.”

Mr. Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, received 176 votes on Friday while his opponent, Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, got 96. He is scheduled to take the oath of office on Saturday.

The hall of Parliament erupted as soon as Asad Qaiser, the speaker, announced the vote count. Mr. Khan’s supporters exalted “Prime Minister Imran Khan,” while his opponents stood up and roared “Vote thief not acceptable,” alluding to allegations of rigging in the July 25 general election.

Mr. Khan sat smiling after his victory, holding a prayer bead in one hand and occasionally shaking his head in disapproval of the opposition ruckus.

Mr. Khan’s party, known as PTI, holds 151 seats in the parliament. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the former governing party, has 81 seats. The Pakistan Peoples Party, the third-largest party, has 54 but abstained from Friday’s voting.

The uproar in Parliament may be a prelude to the difficult path ahead for the new prime minister. The large number of opposition members in the two chambers, the National Assembly and the Senate, will make legislating a tough bargain.

PTI’s rise has marked a stunning turnaround in Mr. Khan’s political fortunes. He emerged as a serious contender only in 2011 when he began attracting large crowds at rallies.

For a long time, he was considered a nobody in the political landscape, and people often mocked his ambition of becoming prime minister. In 2002, his party had just one seat in Parliament. He boycotted the 2008 elections, and in 2013 managed to increase his party’s share to 35.

But he has a history of doing the improbable. Pakistan’s cricket team emerged as one of the best in the world under his leadership and won the World Cup in 1992. Mr. Khan also built the country’s first cancer hospital that treats poor patients for free after raising money through charity.

Mr. Khan has no real governing experience and will face an enormous task in steering the country out of its economic and political challenges.

During the election campaign, Mr. Khan vowed to end corruption and official malfeasance. A broad section of the country’s population, especially the young and educated middle class, has been enamored of his promise of change and reform.

But the elections on July 25 were also marred by allegations of the powerful military’s meddling and irregularities in voting.

The military has denied tilting the election in Mr. Khan’s favor, but the party formerly in power, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, has leveled loud accusations that intelligence agencies forced its members to defect to Mr. Khan’s party or run as independents.

The corruption conviction and jailing of Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, just before the elections also helped Mr. Khan’s ascent.

In many ways, Mr. Khan was responsible for the downfall of Mr. Sharif, a towering figure in the country’s politics who has served as prime minister for three times but never managed to complete a full term.

Mr. Khan led large-scale street protests against Mr. Sharif and helped to advance Supreme Court cases that led to his ouster in July 2017.

Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Mr. Sharif, is now running their political party but analysts here say he cannot match the elder Sharif’s leadership style.

What will Pakistan’s new leader Imran Khan deliver for China?

As former cricket superstar Imran Khan assumes office as Pakistan’s prime minister vowing to change the way the country is governed, members of his Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) have started to ask embarrassing questions about the perks enjoyed by Chinese companies involved in belt and road projects linking Xinjiang to the Arabian Sea.

Fighting the election on an anti-corruption plank for building a “new” Pakistan, Khan’s party has jump-started its promised public examination of agreements for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) made by the last government led by Khan’s nemesis, Nawaz Sharif.

Sharif’s government released only piecemeal information about CPEC and its officials often made contradictory claims, fuelling criticism that the agreements were poorly negotiated – as well as allegations of corruption involving members of the Sharif family.

Chairing a senate committee this week, PTI politician Shibli Faraz questioned the “discrimination” of creating a dedicated US$179 million revolving fund to ensure regular partial payments to Chinese power companies.

Pakistan’s power sector is riddled with debt, created by the government’s inability to keep pace with bills owed to fuel suppliers and independent power producers.

Responding to complaints from Chinese companies and to avert possible Chinese pullback on future CPEC projects, the revolving fund was agreed upon by the caretaker administration that oversaw Pakistan’s government during the three-month campaign season and transfer of power.

Why is the US trying to bully Pakistan with empty China threats?

According to that agreement, the government would finance the fund through expensive short-term borrowing from domestic banks, senior power ministry official Zargham Ishaq told the senate committee.

Although the fund was yet to be established, the government was required to implement the agreement as part of its CPEC commitments, he said.

The incoming PTI administration might have other ideas, and choose to scrap the agreement on the grounds that the caretaker government exceeded its constitutional mandate. Faraz’s interjection reflects a continuing political sniping in Pakistan, placing Chinese companies in the line of fire.

Another Senate committee this week ordered the national highway authority to provide it with details of a CPEC motorway project in central Pakistan, after PTI member Nauman Wazir claimed favourable terms accorded to the Chinese contractor were tantamount to the “embezzlement” of US$1.1 billion.

Pakistan’s politics is known for its volatility – and the current state of play is no different. Sharif, who is serving a 10-year sentence for corruption after being sacked by the Supreme Court following a petition by moved by Khan and his allies last year, prioritised CPEC projects that helped plug the country’s crippling power shortfalls.

Michael Kugelman, senior South Asia associate at The Wilson Centre, a Washington think tank, said China likely would have been more comfortable with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) staying in power, knowing that it had largely agreed with Beijing on the broader terms of CPEC on the whole and had not raised any concerns about the lack of transparent financing plans.

“The PTI’s emphasis on more transparency could certainly be an irritant for Beijing, but at the end of the day this is something the Chinese may well have envisioned happening anyway, especially on the assumption that Pakistan would go to the International Monetary Fund for a loan and have to open its books,” Kugelman told This Week in Asia.

Whoever wins, Pakistan’s new boss will be bossed just like the old boss

But Sharif is far from done. His Pakistan Muslim League has formed a grand opposition alliance that poses a formidable opposition to Khan’s legislative programme in the directly elected National Assembly, where Khan’s PTI enjoys a thin majority. The opposition alliance already holds a majority in the senate, which has the power to block non-finance bills. It also plans to mount protests against last month’s election, disrupting Khan’s ability to govern in much the same way he had done to Sharif in 2014.

Chinese diplomats have repeatedly voiced concerns about political instability and its potential impact on the execution of CPEC projects. Khan, who has little experience as an administrator, has promised “real change”. That, along with the need to keep Sharif in check, would necessitate continuing attacks on past government policies, many of which helped Chinese companies.

Hardline PTI politicians and allies are expected to continue to make noises about CPEC-related corruption by the Sharif administration, leaving it to responsible cabinet members to play down the Chinese connection
Finance minister-in-waiting Asad Umar said on Wednesday CPEC agreements would be placed before parliament to “ensure transparency”, but there was nothing wrong with them in general – although members of the incoming government have not yet seen the texts. Agreements would only be “reopened” if clear evidence of corruption emerged, he said.

How far the PTI can go in pursuing corruption within CPEC projects is questionable as the military assumed political ownership of the corridor last year by integrating it into national security policy.

“They will take time in rebooting the mindset of an eternally angry opposition, provided all is not lost by then,” said Aamir Ghauri, the editor of The News International, a Pakistani newspaper.

The PTI’s questions about CPEC transparency echoed those raised recently by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, ahead of a request for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout by the incoming Khan administration. The bailout is needed to address a yawning trade imbalance worsened by Chinese machinery imports for the US$28 billion of CPEC projects launched over the past three years. Beijing has helped shore up Pakistan’s plunging foreign exchange reserves with US$6 billion of emergency loans, adding to Pakistan’s debts.

In considering the implications of an IMF bailout, Umar would have to weigh Pompeo’s warning that a bailout application would be subject to intense vetting to ensure US taxpayer dollars did not end up paying Chinese debts.

The US has launched an increasingly aggressive campaign against China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, which seeks to boost global trade through infrastructure projects. It has recently announced the establishment of a US$113 million fund to aid economic competitiveness in the Indo-Pacific in partnership with Japan and Australia. Soon after, a group of 16 US senators known for their hawkish views on China wrote to Pompeo and treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin asking how the US government could use its influence at the IMF to ensure the terms of a Pakistan bailout “prevent the continuation of ongoing BRI projects, or the start of new BRI projects”.

The recently approved US defence budget also includes a stipulation by Congress that would require the Donald Trump administration to submit a report by March on China’s use of the belt and road plan to “gain access and influence”.

“Pakistan needs the IMF but the US administration has been uncharacteristically candid in drawing a link between the donor agency’s leaning and the state of US-Pakistan ties,” said Moeed Yusuf, author of Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: US Crisis Management in South Asia.

“From everything I am picking up, this doesn’t seem to have been a hollow threat,” Yusuf said in a recent commentary for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

This has built pressure on Umar to rebalance Pakistan’s financial exposure away from dependence on China, and to make good on promises to make public the terms of existing CPEC agreements. Some pullbacks on big-ticket infrastructure projects are in any case likely as Khan will be forced to trim expenses, meaning a pullback on some future CPEC projects.

“We look forward to constructive relationships with all important countries and the US is the most important. But the PTI will not have an either-or approach. We want good relations with both the US and China,” Umar said, participating in a US think tank discussion on Wednesday.

With the future of the Pakistan-US relationship shrouded in uncertainty, Khan would not do anything to alienate China in a big way.

The Origins of Imran Khan’s Rise to Power

The Pakistani Taliban routinely used terror attacks on civilians and army targets as a lever to stop US drone strikes, and expand their hold on territory. A decade after 9/11, their guerrilla tactics became bolder. At times they acted in concert with army insiders to carry out a stunning number of terrorist attacks at military and naval bases, airports, docks and other strategic locations.

As the Pakistani Taliban grew, they attracted Uzbek, Tajik, Chechen, Uighurs, Southeast Asian, Arab and North Africans jihadis. Pakistan became the global hub for jihad. It was not just the madressahs but higher academic institutions that bred anti-modernity. The absence of governance let sectarian groups kill Shias, Christians, Hindus and religious minorities with impunity.

The army’s high wire attempts to keep the `good (Afghan) Taliban’ separate from the `bad Taliban,’ — Pakistan’s militant Pakhtuns — threatened to implode the state.

With the Obama administration’s announcement of a draw down of troops from Afghanistan, the time was ripe for Pakistan’s army to revise its military strategy. A new chapter was added to its `Green Book’ relating to `sub-conventional warfare,’ which underlined the “internal threat.” Army Chief Gen. Kiyani articulated what people in Pakistan had known through a decade of suffering — that the Taliban and multifarious sectarian, ethnic and secessionist groups had become “a greater threat to Pakistan than even India.”

But the army also needed sweeping powers which would override the civilian government’s authority. Who could serve them better than the twice elected prime minister and businessman born from their womb — Nawaz Sharif? They also needed a politician like Imran Khan, who was ready to `flog the US horse’ and support the Taliban, or not… as long as it gave him access to power.

In May 2013 the army gave the Pakistani Taliban a license to become `king makers.’ In this electoral strategy, the Taliban refrained from violence against public rallies of right wing politicians like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan… while gunning down candidates of secular parties like the Awami National Party, Pakistan Peoples Party and Mutehidda Qaumi Movement.

Bereft of a populist leader like Benazir Bhutto, the PPP mostly hunkered down. While the ANP, MQM and independents made the ultimate sacrifice, losing candidates and sympathizers to the rampaging Taliban. Knowing that the good times wouldn’t last, the Taliban sought a `quid pro quo’ from the government they had helped to elect. They demanded an end to US drone strikes and the army’s withdrawal from FATA and the territory adjoining Afghanistan.

Imran Khan, who formed the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province — which included much of the territory under army control — became the “soft power,” to negotiate the Taliban’s demands.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif convened an All Parties Conference in Islamabad, where political parties agreed to hold “peace talks” with the Pakistani Taliban. Their precondition to the TTP, then led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, was that the Taliban cease all terrorist attacks.

But flush with ill-gotten wealth, weapons and foreign fighters, the Pakistani Taliban killed innocent people and issued demands side by side. Unlike the Afghan Taliban, who still had an ideology against `foreign occupation,’ the Pakistani Taliban had turned into a loose assortment of criminals.

Dismayed, people saw politicians cower before the Taliban. The TTP network stretched between 30 factions headed by Hakeemullah Mehsud in North Waziristan and Mullah Fazlullah in Afghanistan. Hakeemullah had cemented the perfect union between the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and their sectarian affiliates.

The Taliban warned that their real intent was to overthrow the constitution of Pakistan and implement their interpretation of Shariah — the pre-Islamic and customary laws they had enforced in Afghanistan. Just two weeks before he was killed, Hakeemullah gave a rare interview that Pakistan’s close relations with the US had made it necessary to attack the state.

Army insider, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif warned the Taliban that failure in talks could result in sustained army action. But Imran Khan rose to their defense. Even after Christians were massacred in a church in Peshawar, he demanded that the Taliban be allowed to open an office for negotiations.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s army held its high moral ground against US drone attacks. In October 2013, it sent victims to Washington to testify before Congress.

US House Foreign Affairs Committee member, Alan Grayson, who presided over the testimony, called its bluff when he delivered a left-handed compliment to Pakistan about its “very powerful” air force.

“With all due respects to an ally, it is well within Pakistan’s capability to end those drone strikes tomorrow,” he told the media in the nation’s capital.

Playing Politics Like a Game of Cricket

For most of 2014, a reality TV show played out across Pakistan, as the media covered cricket star Imran Khan’s demand that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign for presiding over “rigged elections.” TV channels competed for ratings, as they covered the PTI chief, standing atop a container in Islamabad, where he spoke unscripted and at times ranted abusively against the prime minister.

Sharif was no stranger to rigged elections — having secured his victory against Benazir Bhutto through rigging, as acknowledged by army insiders. But the twice elected prime minister and wealthy businessman possessed slick election support. One contestant from Lahore told me, he was aghast to find the stupendous amounts spent by the Sharifs during their 2013 electoral campaign.

As Nawaz Sharif became prime minister for the third time, he faced rivalry not only from Imran Khan but Pervez Musharraf — the military chief turned president, who ousted him in a coup in 1999. Musharraf had returned home in time for the elections, hoping to carve out a new political career. But the `commando’ faced serious charges of suspending the constitution and presiding over the assassinations of Baloch tribal chief, Nawab Akbar Bugti and former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

Arriving at Karachi airport with a couple of hundred loyalists from overseas, photographs show Musharraf with raised hand… as if saluting the imaginary millions swarming to welcome him home. Instead, as a frowning policeman looks on, the picture speaks a thousand words.

That, alas for Musharraf, was the reality that greeted him upon return. In a Shakespearean drama, the tables turned as Musharraf was put on trial by the very prime minister he had ousted.

It was an uncomfortable position for the army establishment to have one of their own, tried in court like a commoner. Musharraf’s supporters turned to aggressive tactics, fighting off the photographers and reporters who tried to document his historic downfall.

Even though party loyalists had dwindled, they apparently had a plan to “rescue” Musharraf. It intrigued me when his party’s chief praised a religious cleric, Tahir ul Qadri, who had just then flown from Canada to Islamabad to mobilize against Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister. The quirky cleric, whom I had encountered in the ’80s, would occasionally `parachute’ into Pakistan to mobilize welfare recipients of his Islamic schools, for select causes.

For months Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri rallied supporters in Islamabad on a one-point agenda: removal of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Flanked by party leaders, the unlikely pair fired up crowds from their respective containers for the August 14 climax — Pakistan’s Independence Day — when Khan hoped that the `umpire’ would rule in his favor.

The government held off a heavy handed approach, even shifting security barriers in front of parliament to accommodate the protestors. The climax came as TV cameras moved from the leaders and zoomed in on loyalists… as they battled riot gear police, and broke furniture in the headquarters of state controlled television.

Twitter lit up with comments from Pakistan observers when PTI president, Javed Hashmi… once imprisoned by Musharraf for being a Sharif loyalist… appeared to snap out of his stupor. Perhaps jolted by the realization that Musharraf may be using him to bring martial law, Hashmi turned into a whistle blower. He told the media that Khan had told the party’s internal meeting that he had received support from army generals to oust the prime minister.

The drama ended when army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif showed little appetite for dissolving Sharif’s government or taking over the reins of power.

Still, as Qadri flew back to Canada and Khan went home, the army got respite. Musharraf was no longer required to attend his court hearings. Instead, he was put under `house arrest’ in his sprawling house in Defense Housing Society, Karachi — with the
street closed off to the public. Like a bored tiger in a luxurious cage, he issued statements, spoke at events and attracted a clueless elite. Despite court cases that included charges of “treason,” in 2016 the former army chief was quietly allowed to fly overseas on “medical grounds.”

On the other hand, Imran Khan’s campaign left Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif weaker and the army establishment in a stronger position to control the pillars of democracy.

Opposition parties to support PML-N candidate for PM election in NA

ISLAMABAD: An all-party conference of opposition parties has denounced the parliamentary elections as sham and unfair, said Senator Sherry Rehman on Thursday.

“The opposition alliance has declared the elections as non-transparent. But we have decided to challenge the puppet government in the parliament,” Sherry Rehman told media persons after the APC which was attended by PML-N, PPP, MMA, ANP and other parties.

“We will take oath in the Nationa Assembly,” she said.

Opposition parties have developed a consensus on some points which include fielding joint candidates for the upcoming elections of Prime Minister, Speaker and Deputy Speaker in the National Assembly, she said.

“It has been decided that every political party will separately issue a white paper against the elections,” she said.

She said that opposition parties would back a PML-N candidate for the election of Prime Minister.

PPP will field its candidate for the election of National Assembly Speaker while Deputy Speaker will be taken from the MMA, she added.

“We have also agreed to stages protests in the assembly and outside,” she said, adding that election was held to ensure the victory of one party.

Speaking on this occasion, PML-N MNA Ahsan Iqbal said that all democratic parties would launch a democratic struggle. “The flawed election is an assault on the foundation of Pakistan,” he said.

ANP’s Mian Iftkhar Hussain said that opposition parties were in a strong position to form a government.

Pakistan’s Ali Wazir: The lone Marxist to win despite Taliban killing 16 of his family

A rare Communist to survive and win, Wazir refused a seat from Imran Khan, who later didn’t put up a candidate against him.

Ali Wazir, a central committee member of The Struggle, has won a seat in the national parliament of Pakistan from NA-50 (Tribal Area–XI) with 23,530 votes and his closest rival from a religious parties alliance, MMA got 7,515. Thus winning the seat with a majority of 16,015.

Ali Wazir is one of the main leaders of the Pashtun Tahafaz Movement (PTM). This year, mass meetings were organised in major cities of Pakistan to raise voices for fair compensation to the victims of the “war on terror” and to demand the release of all ‘missing’ persons or to bring them to the courts if they are guilty.

Two other leaders of the PTM also contested for the national parliament and one of them, Muhsin Dawer also won the seat after a close competition. Mohsin Javed Dawer got 16,526 votes while Aurangzeb of Imran Khan’s PTI got 10,422. However, the MMA candidate Mufti Misbahudin got a close 15,363 votes.

These two PTM leaders contested from Waziristan, an area dominated by religious fanatics. However, a strong movement for civil rights of Pashtuns had cut across the influence of the fanatics and Pashtuns voted despite all the threats to them.

Two main leaders of the PTM present in parliament has given hope to many in Pakistan that at least there would be peoples voices in a parliament dominated by feudal lords, corrupt capitalists and stooges of the military and judicial establishment.

Who is Ali Wazir?
Ali Wazir is a very special person. His personal ordeal best illustrates what prompted his demands. Ali Wazir was pursuing a degree in law at the turn of the century when his hometown, Wana, the headquarters of the south Waziristan agency, became the epicenter of global terrorism after a host of Taliban-allied groups sought shelter in the communities.

No doubt the terrorists had some individual local facilitators, but ultimately it was the state that failed to prevent them from using the territory. When his father, the chief of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, and other local leaders complained of their presence, government officials ignored and silenced them. Instead, Islamabad spent years denying the presence of any Afghan, Arab, or Central Asian militants.

By 2003, the militants had established a foothold in south and north Waziristan tribal agencies and were attempting to build a local emirate. Ali Wazir’s elder brother Farooq Wazir, a local political activist and youth leader, became the first victim of a long campaign in which thousands of Pashtun tribal leaders, activists, politicians, and clerics were killed with near absolute impunity. Their only crime was to question or oppose the presence of dangerous terrorists in their homeland.

In 2005, Ali Wazir was in prison when his father, brothers, cousins, and an uncle were killed in a single ambush. He was behind the bars because of the draconian colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) law, that holds an entire tribe or region responsible for the crimes of an individual for any alleged crime committed in the territory.

Ali Wazir had committed no crime, never got a fair trial, and was not sentenced, yet he was prevented even from participating in the funerals for his family.

In the subsequent years, six more members of his extended family were assassinated. The authorities have not even investigated these crimes let alone held anyone responsible.

Ali Wazir and his family faced economic ruin after all of the notable men in his family were eliminated. The government failed to prevent the militants from demolishing his family owned gas stations. They later used those bricks to build bathrooms, claiming they were munafiqin (hypocrites) so even the inanimate materials from his businesses were not appropriate to build proper buildings.

His family-owned apple and peach orchards in Wana were sprayed with poisonous chemicals, and tube wells were filled with dirt to force them to surrender to the forces of darkness.

In 2016, his family-owned market in Wana was dynamited after a bomb blast killed an army officer, which was an accident. They nevertheless destroyed their livelihoods under the FCR. After the demolition, the government prevented the local community — mostly members of Ahmadzai Wazir tribe — from collecting donations to help them. They were told it would set an unacceptable precedent because the government cannot let anyone help those it punishes.

So all together 16 members of his family, including his father, two brothers were killed by Taliban during these years.

Ali Wazir was one of the main leaders of Pashtun Tahafaz Movement. He recently toured the country and organised mass rallies in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Swat. Lahore Left Front was the host of Lahore public meeting which was formally not permitted by the authorities. We were not allowed to campaign, no posters or stickers were allowed to be put up in the city.

Ali Wazir and seven more were arrested a night before the public meeting and after a massive immediate response, they were released before the rally. Yet, over 10,000 participated in this public meeting.

In June this year, dozens of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) supporters were injured and 10 were killed as a result of an attack on Ali Wazir by the “pro-government militants”, also known as the Peace Committee. However, the PTM sympathisers gathered to welcome Ali retaliated, upon which the militants fled, leaving Ali’s cousin and a Voice of America (VOA) journalist injured among others.

In an interview in April 2018, Ali Wazir said, “The past few months have transformed my life. Amid the agonies I have endured and the threats, suspicion, and accusations I face, the love, support, and respect I receive is overwhelming.

Since February, when we began protesting to draw attention to the suffering of ethnic Pashtuns — among the worst victims of terrorism — I have learned a lot about the potential of ordinary Pakistanis. Their thirst for change is inspiring and heralds a peaceful, prosperous future we must build for generations to come”.

During those difficult years, he didn’t lose faith in the mass movement and remained committed to politics of class struggle. He ran in parliamentary elections in 2008 and 2013.

In the 2013 general elections, his victory was changed to a defeat at gunpoint. He lost the election for just over 300 votes after the Taliban intimidated voters and tortured his supporters and campaign volunteers.

Amid the volcano of violence, thousands of civilians have disappeared, and thousands have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings. The leaders of PTM are profiled as suspected terrorists across the country, face humiliation at security check posts, and innocent civilians have to face violence during security sweeps and operations. As the world’s largest tribal society, the Pashtuns are known for their hospitality, commitment, and valour, yet they were falsely reduced to terrorist sympathisers despite the fact that they are their worst victims.

Ali Wazir belongs to The Struggle, a Pakistani Marxist organization that has joined the Lahore Left Front, a united platform of several Left groups and parties. However, the Lahore Left Front has organised some mass activities where Ali Wazir participated.

The general election of 2018 was the most rigged elections in the history of Pakistan. The society has pushed further to the right with Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) coming to power. Imran Khan called Ali Wazir prior to the elections and offered him PTI nomination from the area which Ali politely refused. However, such respect for Ali Wazir Imran Khan had that that he told him that in any case, “we will not put up our candidate against you”.

Prior to the general elections, a wholesale rigging took place on the behest of the establishment. PML(N) candidates were threatened, forced to change loyalties and so on. The PTI had open support from most of the state institutions.

In this background when a more Right-wing party PTI, than the previous ruling party PML(N), has come to power, a Marxist in parliament would be a breath of fresh air.

Although other Left groups also contested including Awami Workers Party (AWP) and had launched tremendous election campaigns, however, the election campaign of Ali Wazir had some special characteristics. He addressed few public meetings every day, went door to door with his meagre resources. Thousands cheered him at all times. We were all sure that he will win but were afraid of any incident that could cancel the elections from his constituency.

Ali Wazir has opened the gates for the entire Left. He is loved by most of the social activists, a sober person who is always down to earth in his presentation in workers meeting but speaks like a lion when he is addressing the ruling class. A fearless class fighter who has emerged as one of the most respected Left leaders in recent working-class history.

This article was originally published in the Asian Marxist Review

The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Next Leader

LAHORE, Pakistan — Imran Khan, a charismatic cricket star who has fiercely criticized American counterterrorism policy in a region plagued by extremism, appeared poised on Thursday to become Pakistan’s next prime minister.

After preliminary results showed his party decisively ahead in an election that critics say was deeply marred, Mr. Khan addressed the nation on television, outlining what he would do as prime minister.

He said he would fight corruption at the highest levels, improve relations with China, seek a “mutually beneficial” relationship with the United States and create a just welfare state along the lines of what the Prophet Muhammad did centuries ago.

“We’re going to run Pakistan in a way it’s never been run before,” he said.

He also said he would never live in the prime minister’s mansion. In a country of so many poor people, he said, “I would be embarrassed” to stay in such a house.

For years, Mr. Khan had tried but failed to take the reins of this nuclear-armed Islamic republic, which has struggled with poverty, economic stagnation and instability and which is increasingly torn between its two biggest allies: China and the United States. But this time around, he found a powerful ally in Pakistan’s military.

In recent months, army and intelligence officers pressured, threatened and blackmailed politicians from rival parties, human rights groups have said, steadily thinning out Mr. Khan’s competition.

Members of rival parties said unfair practices continued during the vote, with some ballot counting done in secret, guarded by soldiers. But Pakistan’s election authorities said the vote, on Wednesday, had been fair.

“The way this stage has been set, it would have been a surprise if he didn’t win,” said Nighat Dad, the executive director of Digital Rights Foundation, an advocacy group.

Mr. Khan’s ascendance injects a volatile element into relations with the United States under President Trump, who has accused Pakistan of lying about the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militants embedded in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mr. Khan has denied that and accused the United States of recklessness and murder in its use of drone strikes on suspected extremists in his country, signaling he wants them to stop.

Friends and foes describe Mr. Khan, 65, as relentless, charming, swaggering and highly unpredictable.

As a young man, his good looks, prowess on the cricket pitch and success with women made him something of a fascination in England, where he lived for a time. In 1982, he posed for a London newspaper lounging on a bed, wearing only briefs.

“Imran Khan is worried in case I portray him as a sex symbol,” wrote the London newspaper journalist sent to interview him.

“This is possibly why Imran is stretched across his hotel bed wearing only a petulant expression and a pair of tiny, black satin shorts.”

But a complex, mysterious transformation would begin soon after. In 1992, Mr. Khan captained Pakistan’s cricket team to a World Cup victory over England, the country’s former colonial ruler. It was a moment of immense Pakistani pride, and Mr. Khan was at the center of it.

But looking back on it, he told interviewers, he felt empty.

He began to stay away from the clubs, the partying, the girlfriends. He began a quest to build a cancer hospital in Pakistan for the poor; his mother had died of cancer, and the two had been close.

He turned to Islam and the Sufi sect, which he said helped lend purpose to his life.
Then he entered politics. Pakistan in the late 1990s was a mess: Its Machiavellian spy services were working with the United States and, at the same time, supporting the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. The country was poor, troubled and divided — which could still be said today.

Mr. Khan seized on a single issue: governance.

“In Pakistan, the main problem is not extremism,” he said in a recent interview with The New York Times. “We are a governance failure. And in any third world country, the moment the governance collapses, mafias appear.”

He focused on corruption, repeatedly stating that a few political dynasties had shamelessly enriched themselves while governance weakened and the country grew poorer.
But Mr. Khan’s shouts for reform were not taken seriously at first.

The Justice Movement he founded in 1996 initially won only one seat in Parliament — his — and a Pakistani newspaper ridiculed him as “Im the Dim.”

His personal life also careened back and forth, always attracting enormous attention, especially after he married a wealthy British heiress, Jemima Goldsmith. She converted to Islam, they had two children, and tried living in Pakistan together. But it did not last, and they divorced. Mr. Khan married twice more, the last time to his spiritual healer, which again raised eyebrows across Pakistan.

But he seemed adept at not letting the gossip pages distract him, and he kept hammering on about corruption. And two years ago, he received a gift from the Panama Papers.

Those files, an avalanche of millions of leaked confidential documents from a law firm in Panama, included several pieces of information that incriminated Pakistan’s prime minister at the time, Nawaz Sharif. Evidence began to build that Mr. Sharif had stolen millions of dollars from public coffers in Pakistan to buy expensive apartments in London, under the names of his children.

Mr. Khan capitalized on this and called for Mr. Sharif to resign. The Supreme Court removed Mr. Sharif from office, and just two weeks ago, right before the election, Mr. Sharif and his daughter were imprisoned.

Few would disagree that corruption is out of control in Pakistan. But many observers here saw something in Mr. Sharif’s downfall that was more selective, possibly more sinister.

The widespread suspicion was that Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence services had pressured the judiciary to take out Mr. Sharif, clearing a path for Mr. Khan to take over. Mr. Sharif had clashed with the army chiefs, even some of those he had chosen, many times. He was a thorn in their side.

Mr. Khan, on the other hand, was someone the military bosses seemed to think they could work with. Analysts said he shared their worldview, in which Pakistan would kowtow less to the United States and talk more with the Taliban and other extremist groups.

In the prelude to the election, the military seemed to push even harder for Mr. Khan. Human rights groups, academics and members of other political parties said security officers threatened politicians to defect to Mr. Khan’s side. Several did.

That does not mean that Mr. Khan was not genuinely popular. He was, especially among young men who lionized him as a sports hero. As elections loomed, a Khan wave swept Pakistan. His face was everywhere — on banners, lampposts and torn flags flying from the sputtering rickshaws that flit in and out of traffic. His supporters were the most energized and confident. His party’s symbol: a cricket bat.

Votes were still being tabulated on Thursday, but Mr. Khan’s party was far ahead, though still falling short of an outright majority in Parliament. According to results on state television, Mr. Khan’s party had 120 seats, Mr. Sharif’s party 61 and a party run by the Bhuttos, one of Pakistan’s most storied political families, 40.

Even with some vote rigging allegations unsettled, it is widely expected that Mr. Khan will entice politicians from several smaller parties to join a coalition government, with him as prime minister. Depending on how many smaller parties he woos, his government could be strong or weak.

What will Mr. Khan face?
Domestically, the challenges will be overwhelming. Pakistan’s electricity grid is disintegrated, its infant mortality rate is among the most distressing in Asia, its currency is sliding, and its debt — especially to China — is ballooning. So many Pakistanis are unable to find jobs that every year, countless young men set off on a desperate exodus to the Middle East to work as street cleaners, luggage handlers, anything.

Internationally, Pakistan is in a pinch. China has extended it billions to build roads and other infrastructure, which at the current rate will be impossible to repay.
At the same time, President Trump has cut hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid. “They have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools,” Mr. Trump said of Pakistan in a tweet in January. “They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Mr. Khan deeply disagrees.

“To blame Pakistan for that disaster is extremely unfair,” he said in the recent Times interview. “The moment the U.S. went into Afghanistan, everyone knew what was going to happen.”

“It was the history of Afghanistan,” he added, citing the defeat of occupying Soviet troops in the 1980s. Just as with the Soviets, he said, the longer the Americans stayed, the more resistance would grow.

Pakistan, he says, has borne “the brunt of the war on terror,” and he lamented what he called a misguided strategy that has killed thousands of people in his country and deprived Pakistan of billions of dollars in lost business. For years, he has been a particularly vocal critic of American drone strikes.

All these positions play well with many Pakistanis. So does Mr. Khan’s recent support for the country’s strict blasphemy laws. Pakistan is socially conservative, and about 96 percent of citizens are Muslim.

Mr. Khan’s positions on religion have tacked like a sailboat over the years. But as the election drew closer, he seemed to set his course for the Islamists. In the past, he expressed support for the application of strict Islamic law, including hand amputations for thieves.

Mr. Khan has successfully rebranded himself as a populist alternative to Pakistan’s political elite, whom voters seemed more than ready to jettison.
But his life, in many ways, could not have been more different from that of most Pakistanis.

Born to a rich family in Lahore, Mr. Khan went to the best schools in Pakistan and in England, including Keble College, Oxford. He is independently wealthy, still travels abroad regularly and remains close to Ms. Goldsmith, despite their divorce.

Though many acquaintances credit him with being charming, he can also come across as remote and desultory. His attendance record as an elected member of the National Assembly, Pakistan’s Parliament, was one of the worst.

Many analysts wonder how long Mr. Khan’s friendship with the military will last.
“He is known to have erratic behavior and a very unpredictable personality,” said Taha Siddiqui, a journalist and critic of the military who recently moved to France, saying he feared for his safety.

Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan; and Meher Ahmad and Daniyal Hassan from Lahore.

Pakistan election raises fears of ‘creeping coup’

In its 70-year history, Pakistan has alternated between quasi-democracy and pure military rule. In the process it has become embroiled in international conflicts and morphed into a home base for Islamist militancy.

Over the past decade, Pakistanis have witnessed democracy at its most undiluted thus far, but it’s now under threat from what some say appears to be a “democratic coup” of sorts.

And just as in the past, the country’s powerful military establishment remains the chief suspect behind the fresh round of political manipulation.

In the past, the military used to either stage a direct coup or use special powers to sack an elected government and then manipulate elections to ensure it wasn’t re-elected.

In 2008, those special powers were done away with, leading to a first in 2013: an elected government completing its five-year term.

But since then the tide appears to have reversed, and critics say the establishment is resorting to more primitive tactics to recover its edge.

A three-pronged approach is in evidence.
First, as some legal experts have observed, the courts have selectively applied the law to clip the wings of the outgoing government, thereby creating an advantage for its rivals.

On Sunday, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court said that the ISI intelligence service was interfering in the judiciary, and had pressured judges not to release convicted ex-PM Nawaz Sharif ahead of the vote.

Mr Sharif was disqualified from office by the Supreme Court on questionable grounds last year, and has since been sentenced to 10 years in jail by a trial court, in a ruling which one legal expert described as an embarrassment to his community.

According to the Dawn newspaper, Justice Siddiqui told the Rawalpindi Bar Association he was not afraid of speaking out against the powerful ISI, saying: “I am not afraid even if I am assassinated.”

Second, authorities have either looked the other way as banned militant groups have joined the election process, or have actively helped them to do so.

And third, the military has been given what many call an obscenely large role in administering the voting process on election day.

More on Pakistan’s election
 Why the election matters
 Viewpoint: Pakistan’s dirtiest election in years
 The acid attack survivor running for parliament
 The assault on Pakistan’s media

The first two stages have already unfolded enough for one to see their preliminary results.

Many candidates from Mr Sharif’s PML-N have been lured to leave the party and either join the PTI party of rival and former cricketer Imran Khan, or stand as independents.

There is evidence that those who have resisted such demands have faced physical violence, had their businesses attacked or have been disqualified from office.

Other parties with a stake in undiluted democracy, such as the PPP party of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, are also under threat. The party is now led by her widower, former President Asif Zardari, and fronted by their son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto.

Some PPP leaders have been named in renewed money-laundering allegations, while authorities in the field have been accused of disrupting its election campaign.

The party, as well as other secular groups, also faces the prospect of militant attacks.

One such party, the leftist Awami National Party, lost a prime candidate in a suicide attack in Peshawar last week. Two more candidates, including one from the PTI, have since been killed in similar attacks.

In Balochistan, a secular candidate, Gizen Marri, has been battling travel restrictions and house arrest, while a man linked by many to sectarian militancy, Shafiq Mengal, is free to stand for election in a neighbouring constituency.

Mr Marri is being stopped probably because of his strong views on provincial rights, an idea which runs contrary to the military’s strictly centrist approach.

But Mr Mengal’s reported links to the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group and his alleged involvement in several attacks in Balochistan are being ignored, secular parties say, apparently because he has been acting as the military’s proxy against Baloch nationalists.

n June, Pakistan removed another leader with LeJ links, Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi, from its terror watch list, apparently to free him up to lead his group in the election campaign, which it is contesting under a different name.

The Jamatud Dawa (JuD) group, whose leader Hafiz Saeed is on a UN terror blacklist, has also been allowed to field candidates under the banner of a different party.

Mr Saeed is accused of being behind co-ordinated attacks in Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people in November 2008.

More recently, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, the founder of the Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM) militant group, ended his long hibernation to announce his support for Imran Khan’s PTI party. He is on a US terrorism black list.

Taken together, all of these moves point to a scenario where left-wing or pro-democracy parties are being squeezed by legal or physical threats.

This has left the field open for Imran Khan’s PTI party and the religious extremists.

If this is any guide to the probable outcome, the aim appears to be to ensure no clear mandate for any one party, a result which the establishment can then manipulate to determine who the next prime minister will be.

And since all of this is being done in plain sight, the media has been put under pressure – by unidentified authorities – to offer only selective coverage of events.

So while on the surface the country still seems to be going through the motions of democracy, many say that what is actually happening is far from democratic.

A former senator and columnist, Afrasiab Khattak, has called it a “creeping coup.”
This alleged effort has been “conceived by the deep state [meaning the military] and midwifed by the judiciary”, he wrote in a recent newspaper column.

And this has led, he said, to a “fascist-like strangulation of democratic freedoms and the media”.

Silence from judiciary over media attacks increases self-censorship, Pakistan’s journalists say

When it comes to the military and the judiciary, Pakistan’s journalists are “between a rock and a hard place,” Zohra Yusuf, of the independent non-profit Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told CPJ. In recent months the judiciary, which has a history of siding with Pakistan’s powerful military, has remained largely silent amid attempts to censor or silence the press.

Ahead of elections on July 25, CPJ has documented how journalists who are critical of the military or authorities were abducted or attacked, how the army spokesman accused journalists of sharing anti-state and anti-military propaganda, and how distribution of two of Pakistan’s largest outlets–Geo TV and Dawn–was arbitrarily restricted.

The judiciary, which has power to take up cases on its own, did not intervene on behalf of the press. But it has continued its practice of threatening legal action against its critics.

Some journalists and analysts said that by not taking action, the judiciary has added to a climate of fear and self-censorship.

The judiciary has at times been seen as a strong supporter of democratic values, but Yusuf said the perception among many people in Pakistan is that the judiciary and the military “seem to be on the same page on certain aspects of our democracy.”

“Now … democracy and media are being presented as a problem,” Yusuf said, adding that journalists are bending over backwards to avoid provoking either institution.

Madiha Afzal, an adjunct assistant professor of global policy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the author of Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State, told CPJ she thinks the judiciary is an “all too willing pawn in the military’s hands.” Afzal added, “I also think that it is in broad agreement with the military in its stance on Pakistan’s politics.”

The judiciary did not respond to CPJ’s email and calls requesting comment.

Pakistani authorities certainly appear to be taking a tougher stance toward the press.

The country’s media regulator issued a statement this month warning news channels not to air any statements “by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting various state institutions, specifically judiciary and armed forces.”

And Ahmad Noorani, a senior journalist with The News, told CPJ that some media houses received instructions from “certain forces” not to cover anything that favored former prime minister Nawaz Sharif or went against the judiciary. Noorani did not provide further details.

Owais Ali, the founder of the Pakistan Press Foundation, said a free media was crucial for free and fair elections. “Whatever the political issues are, they need to be discussed. These include criticisms of the judiciary and the military in the forthcoming elections. The media should not have a price to pay simply for reporting what is being discussed by the politicians and political parties.”

The lack of judicial support does not appear to be linked to court capacity. Pakistan’s chief justice came under criticism from political analysts this year for “judicial activism” — taking on suo motu cases, cases taken on the court’s initiative, Reuters reported.

The court has launched inquiries on issues ranging from water shortages, police encounters, and milk prices.

Suo motu cases seem to be taken up “at the drop of a hat,” but when Geo asked the Supreme Court to take on its case, the court refused, Imran Aslam, president of Geo TV, told CPJ, referring to how cable operators arbitrarily blocked the broadcaster’s transmission earlier this year. “I certainly think the judiciary could have done something about Geo.”

The judiciary is supposed to provide justice to the media houses and media workers, but failed to take notice of the situation that the leading news channel of the country was facing, Noorani said. The court could easily have issued an order or at least asked for a report from the relevant regulatory authority, but they didn’t provide any relief to Geo, he said.

Afzal said she thinks the restrictions on Geo and Dawn undermined the outlets’ credibility. “[It] means that many in Pakistan don’t get to hear liberal voices or voices that are critical of the military, which in turn ensures that they remain pro-military and skeptical of liberal voices,” she said.

News outlets that criticize the judiciary often find themselves threatened with legal action. Nearly every major news organization has been served contempt of court notices, Yusuf said.

Last year, Noorani and his paper’s publisher, Jang Group, were served two notices, including one over Noorani’s report on the Inter-services Intelligence. Noorani said the court withdrew the notice after he presented records of his communication and evidence backing the story.

A contempt of court order brought against TV journalist Matiullah Jan and Waqt TV in February, over claims the higher court was insulted on Jan’s talk show, was dropped after the station’s management apologized and Jan said he would exercise more caution, according to Dawn.

Fakhar Durrani, a reporter at The News, said that when he reported last year on judges who were allegedly vying for plots of land that were part of a housing scheme case they were hearing, his organization came under pressure to stop reporting. Durrani, who did not specify where the pressure came from, said he was not able to publish any follow-up stories.

“During that era, my organization was facing contempt of court notices on other issues so they tried not to indulge in any other legal matter,” Durrani said.

Issuing a contempt of court notice to just one news outlet in Pakistan is a sufficient message to all the media houses because it comes from the highest court in the country and there is no way to appeal a Supreme Court order, Noorani said. If the Supreme Court orders the closure of a news station it sends a message to all other media houses to either fall in line or face the consequences, Noorani said.

The uncertainty over what could draw a contempt of court notice exacerbates the situation.
Aslam, of Geo TV, said criticism of any kind is looked upon as almost treasonous. He added, “It’s a scary situation because you don’t know when you’ll be called up in the courts, and this has led us to tread more carefully.”

He added that objective reporting has been skewed in Pakistan because of the constraints “looming” over the media all the time. “What it induces is self-censorship, even if word doesn’t go down to reporters and everybody else, they are looking over their shoulders.”

Nawaz Sharif arrested on arrival in Pakistan as 132 people die in bombing

Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested in Lahore airport on Friday as he returned to face a 10-year prison sentence which he claimed was part of a wide-ranging, military-backed conspiracy to deny his party a second term in an election due on 25 July.

Military police boarded Sharif’s flight as it landed from a stop in Abu Dhabi after taking off in London. Paramilitary Rangers linked arms and battled against Sharif’s supporters to escort the 68-year-old off the aircraft, into a waiting car and then across the 200 yards to another small aircraft.

The Rangers also arrested Maryam, his daughter, who on 6 July was sentenced with her father to seven years in the trial over how the family came to own four luxury flats in London’s Park Lane, a story that resurfaced in the 2016 leak of the Panama Papers.

As the political drama unfolded in Lahore, fears of violence also surged ahead of the polls as 132 people were killed by a suicide bomber at a political rally in southwestern Balochistan province.

“Who wants to go to jail?”, Sharif told the Guardian from the Etihad airlines flight on which supporters yelled pro-Sharif slogans while in the air.

“But it is a very small price to pay for my mission, which is to establish the sanctity of the vote in Pakistan.”

The arrests ignited an otherwise lacklustre election campaign beset by allegations that the powerful military was “engineering” the vote to promote the main opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by the former cricketer Imran Khan.

The military has denied the allegations.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan’s anti-graft court, ruled earlier this month that Sharif and his family laundered money in the 1990s to pay for the Park Lane apartments, drawing on allegations that resurfaced in the Panama Papers leak.

Before Sharif’s return, his brother Shahbaz, the former chief minister of Punjab, led tens of thousands of supporters in a welcome rally but the caravan had to negotiate a city turned into a warren of roadblocks.

Police arrested more than 500 Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) party (PML-N) workers in the hours before Sharif’s arrival, banned public gatherings of more than five people and cut mobile phone signals across Lahore.

The media regulator banned mentions of “convicted persons”, thwarting local journalists from broadcasting much of Sharif’s response.

“What credibility will the election have if the government is taking such action against our people?,” said Sharif.

“Somebody is forcing the caretaker government to take these actions,” he said, hinting at the role of the so-called “establishment”, whose influence Sharif attempted to limit until he was ousted in a controversial supreme court ruling last July.

A battle with the deep state, which began when the military ousted Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999, reached its peak this week.

Sharif openly named a general at Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, as behind the attempts to push PML-N politicians to join the PTI, splintering the taboo by which civil leaders only refer to the armed forces in vague code; “angels” in the case of intelligence agents.

Sharif planned to appeal against his conviction on landing but analysts doubt he would receive bail before the election.

The leadership hopes that instead his sentence of “rigorous imprisonment” – which could include physical labour – will play to the party’s favour in the elections, turning him into a martyr for civilian supremacy.

Sympathy for Sharif has risen during the illness of his wife, Kulsoom, who is in a coma in a London hospital after treatment for throat cancer. In a parting photograph shared widely on social media, Sharif leans over her sickbed and touches her brow with a gloved hand, while Maryam wipes her eyes.

The latest poll shows that Khan’s party, the PTI, is marginally in front of the PML-N. On Friday, European election monitors were granted permission to deploy across the country.

Friday’s suicide attack – which was claimed by Islamic State – killed Siraj Raisani, who was running for a provincial seat with the newly formed Balochistan Awami party, the provincial home minister, Agha Umar Bungalzai, told AFP.

Ex-Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif returns to face ‘jail cell’

Ousted Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif is returning to Pakistan despite facing a 10-year jail sentence for corruption.

Sharif and his daughter Maryam both face arrest when they arrive back in Lahore from London on Friday.

The three-term PM was ousted from office last year after a corruption investigation. He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years last week.

He has accused Pakistan’s security establishment of conspiring against him ahead of July 25 elections.

“There was a time when we used to say a state within a state, now it’s a state above the state,” he told supporters of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party in London on Wednesday.

“Despite seeing the bars of prison in front of my eyes, I am going to Pakistan.”

Thousands of supporters are expected to flock to the airport to greet Mr Sharif, who was convicted by an anti-corruption court last week over his family’s ownership of four luxury flats in London.

Hundreds of party activists in Lahore are reported to have been detained ahead of his return.

He has called for a “mass gathering of the people”.

Sharif, 67, has been one of the country’s leading politicians for most of the past 30 years. His party has blamed the military for being behind his conviction, saying it is going after the PML-N for its criticism of the security establishment and the party’s policy to improve ties with India.

In May, the Dawn newspaper published an interview with Sharif in which he questioned the wisdom of “allowing” Pakistani militants to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai, referring to attacks in the Indian business capital in 2008.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its 70-year post-independence history, has denied it has any “direct role” in the elections or the political process.

Although he was disqualified from standing in the upcoming election by the Supreme Court, Sharif remains one of the most popular politicians in Pakistan, especially in Punjab, the most populous and electorally significant province.

Sharif walks into a jail cell

Analysis by the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad
The last time Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to a jail term after a military coup in 1999, he chose to accept a pardon and exile under a Saudi-brokered deal. But this time, he is walking into a jail cell.
Back then, it was thought that being the spoilt son of a wealthy father, he was too soft to face the various hardships that can befall a Pakistani politician.
But his moves this time underline that he is willing to traverse tougher territory.
Sharif may well be contemplating wider protests after the election, which many believe the military has already “engineered” enough to ensure his party doesn’t win.
And he may have made a huge personal sacrifice for this. Sharif has left behind his wife Kulsoom, who has cancer, on life support in a London hospital, knowing that he may not be able to return to be by her side.

Last week the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court ordered Sharif to serve 10 years for owning assets beyond his income and one year for not co-operating with the NAB. The sentences are to be served concurrently.

His daughter, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, received seven years for abetting a crime and one year for not co-operating – again to run concurrently – while son-in-law Safdar Awan was given a one-year sentence for not co-operating.

Sharif and Maryam also received fines of £8m ($10.6m) and £2m respectively. Their lawyers say they will appeal against the verdict but the pair will have to surrender to the NAB before the appeal can be filed.

The case, known as the Avenfield Reference, relates to a number of properties in the UK capital.

The assault on Pakistan media ahead of vote
The Panama Papers leak in 2015 revealed several of Sharif’s children had links to offshore companies, which were allegedly used to channel funds and buy foreign assets – including luxury flats in Avenfield House, on London’s Park Lane.

His family, however, insist they legitimately acquired the four properties.

As part of the ruling, the court ordered they be confiscated for the federal government.

Pakistan’s general election
Voters will elect candidates for the 342-seat Pakistan National Assembly.

The main parties are Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, former cricketer Imran Khan’s PTI and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s PPP

It will mark the second time that one civilian government has handed power to another after serving a full term.

The run-up to the vote has been marred by what observers say is a crackdown on political activists, journalists and critics of the powerful military.

More than 371,000 troops will be deployed to protect the election and ensure it is “free and fair”, the army says.