Washington, July 26: Pakistan watchers in the US on Thursday doubted the fairness of the general election for which Imran Khan's party received the army's backing while the PML-N and the PPP ran their campaigns "under constraints".
The Trump administration said it was closely monitoring the situation in Pakistan but refused to declare the polls "free and fair". The State Department too refused to confirm that. Its mission in Pakistan did not deploy election observers primarily because of security concerns.
"We continue to monitor developments and have consistently emphasised our support for free, fair, transparent and accountable elections in Pakistan, as we do around the world," a State Department spokesperson told the Press Trust of India.
Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistan ambassador to the US, said that the result of the election was "foretold". "PML-N and PPP were running under constraints and PTI was operating with complete freedom and establishment backing."
Haqqani, who is with the Hudson Institute think-tank, said the result was unlikely to change anything in Pakistan, unless the military-led establishment decides to shutdown its "jihad business" and recognises it as the source of the country's isolation and economic difficulties.
"It is unlikely that a prime minister Imran Khan will act decisively against jihadis, given his sympathy for their cause but miracles can happen," Haqqani said.
The comments came as political parties in Pakistan, including the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, too raised allegations that the election was manipulated and rigged in PTI chief Khan's favour.
At a midnight press conference when the vote count was underway, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif said the election was a "blatant violation" of the mandate of the people. Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari too raised doubts over the slow pace of vote count and other procedural irregularities.
"There are serious allegations of tampering and interference for virtually all parties except the PTI. So the Election Commission of Pakistan will have to respond but it is unclear how," former state department official Alyssa Ayres, who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations, said.
In an early-morning press conference, the Election Commission rejected the charges, saying it did "our job right." "In the meantime, the prospect of an Imran Khan-led government will in my view introduce further rockiness into US-Pakistan ties. He is on the record saying things like 'America is destroying Pakistan' and will likely seek to reduce Pakistan-US cooperation, already troubled to begin with. So count me concerned," Ayres said.
Imran Khan, Pakistan experts widely believe, has the backing of the Pakistani army. Jeff M. Smith - from the Heritage Foundation - said it was important to acknowledge that a peaceful transition of power via a democratic election is still a rare commodity in Pakistan and thus would be a positive step forward. Though, even that has been put in doubt by "some very troubling accounts" of electoral tampering and manipulation, he said.
"The bigger problem, by far, is that the results of the election carry only limited meaning so long as the Pakistani military remains the principal power broker and puppet master governing from behind the scenes," Smith said.
It ensures that regardless of who wins the election, there is unlikely to be any great deviation from the military's policies and priorities in domestic and foreign affairs, he said.
"Past history suggests those daring enough to try and chart a more independent course or assert some degree of civilian control over the military are quickly discarded and emasculated by Rawalpindi, which inevitably finds a new political host to co-opt," Smith said.
Khan's position on the US is far more hawkish than former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, noted Moeed Yusuf, from US Institute of Peace. "On India, even though Khan is likely to take a more balanced approach, he will certainly not be as forward leaning as Sharif," he said.
Appearing at the Atlantic Council, a US think-tank, Ikram ul Majeed Sehgal chairman of the Pathfinder Group said the Pakistani army always had a major say in elections.
This time it made it publicly known that it favored Khan in general elections, but did not interfere in the elections itself, he said in response to a question.