Effects of Foreign Interference in Pakistan Elections - 2013
Bassam Javed


As Pakistan inches closer to general elections scheduled for May the 13th this year, a hectic activity amongst the foreign diplomats based at Islamabad, especially those belonging to the United States and the U.K, is being observed. Their flurry of visits to provincial metropolises of the country and interactions with key political figures and insiders of different political parties for collecting information on various aspiring election candidates, related political alliances and the interim care taker set-ups is indicative of their interference in the electoral processes of Pakistan.

The country has for the first time afforded a complete five year term to a democratically elected government. This was only made possible through resolve of various pillars of the State to give a chance to democracy to nurture and deliver. Through the last five years, Parliament has made various amendments in the constitution in order to close existing gaps that were exploited in the past by various quarters. The uncalled for over excitement amongst the foreign diplomats over election candidates and alliances however, signal that their interactions may contribute to influencing the minds of their easily accessible hosts, the political leaders and other politicians who feel elated on being considered as relevant when interacted by foreigners. The surging interaction of the foreign diplomats tantamount to their transformation into de-facto participants in the up-coming elections. Also, their dubious interactions with political figures at this time when the elections are just around the corner give rise to suspicions of financial backing and State support for some key political leaders to get them elected for their ulterior motives and utilizing their services later to get their designs materialized against the interests of Pakistan. The ‘Daily Telegraph’ of London referred to one Ehtisham Ahmad, a visiting fellow at the famous London School of Economics as having said that British Aid is being misused by a particular political party in Pakistan for its re-election campaign. Another example is that of U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson who had commented prior the recently held Kenyan elections by saying that, “peoples choices will have consequences for the country.” The U.S. never wanted that Mr. Kenyatta, the Kenyan leader who overwhelmingly won the elections, to come into power in Kenya. Mr. Carson’s statement was solely made to influence the outcome of the Kenyan vote. In Pakistan, the news of foreign diplomats’ visits to various political leaders and their affiliates do not get highlighted in the local print or electronic media: courtesy the influence of Pakistan based foreign Press Attaches and information secretaries’ of various Pakistani political parties’ on the media.

Pakistan’s Judiciary and Election Commission of Pakistan are taking lot of pains to ensure that candidates vying for national and provincial assemblies meet certain educational, social and moral bench marks to be able to compete for the seats. The Election Commission and the Judiciary are resolved to ensure that only deserving candidates get the chance to compete and both the institutions as such have vowed to stand up to all challenges that might come their way to ensure that elections are held freely and fairly. Despite this resolve, the heightened temperatures in the diplomatic community over the elections in Pakistan and their conduct is not justified. Both U.S. and U.K. have repeatedly been accused in the past of using election results of a country as a leverage to intervene in its internal affairs. In a study carried out by Daniel Corstange and Nikolay Marinov and titled ‘Taking Sides in Other People’s Elections: The Polarizing Effect of Foreign Intervention’ the authors have concluded that outside powers have tried, with some success, to influence the outcome of more than 120 elections that have taken place in sixty-six countries between 1960 and 2006.

Too much socio-political interaction by foreign diplomats with renowned leaders of certain political parties vying for seats of power in a country has definite effects on the conduct and results of any election. Supporting preferred contestants behind the scenes may help them win the elections, form a government and get it implement policies friendly to the intervening State. Foreign powers do use mechanisms to promote their allies, including help with campaign logistics via funding and expertise in an attempt to tip the balance of electoral support in favor of foreign power’s domestic allies. It is not to say that meetings with host government’s political and other official functionaries by foreign diplomats is a wrong way to cultivate relations but overdoing and making it repeatedly obvious especially when the general elections in Pakistan are only a few weeks away, smell fishy not only on diplomats’ part but also on the part of Pakistani political leaders and their affiliates who are in a habit of regularly receiving them.

The foreign diplomats based in Pakistan will do a lot of good to this country’s march towards a progressive and genuine democracy only if they refrain from over indulging with political contestants. Their overzealous indulgence may make the contestants’ credibility controversial in the eyes of voters. At this critical turning point in our democratic discourse when elections are just around the corner, uncalled for interaction by foreign diplomats with the aspiring political contestants may have serious ramifications on election results. This is the time for our media as well to prove its nationalistic character. Willful aversion of reporting dubious bilateral interactions so far between foreign diplomats and certain politicians tantamount to ignoring national interests of Pakistan and hiding facts from the viewers that may otherwise make them more wise on their right to choose between the candidates. Media must also courageously cover interactions between foreign diplomats and the political leadership with the same zeal and zest as it does while covering Pakistani politicians’ routine activities, bilateral meetings, mutual interactions, political alliances and their election campaigns.