US Representatives demand investigation of alleged Pakistani election fraud

Thirty-one US congresspeople have signed a letter calling on President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to delay recognition of the newly elected Pakistani government until allegations of election fraud are investigated. 

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The letter, sponsored by Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas) and Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) urged the Biden Administration to “wait until a thorough, transparent, and credible investigation has been conducted before recognizing a new Pakistani government.”

Casar told the American news website The Intercept that Pakistan’s government ought to be formed based on the will of the people. “For the sake of democracy and all Pakistanis, we are calling on the Biden Administration to withhold recognition of a new government until an investigation determines the election was not rigged,” he said. 

The letter explains the context of Pakistan’s recent elections, including former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s imprisonment since January 2024 on charges of corruption. Members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, which had polled as the most popular party in the country, were forced to run as independents and were harassed and arrested by authorities leading up to the election. 

The congresspeople described corruption both before and after the election itself, noting in the letter that Pakistani authorities suspended cellular and internet services on the day of the election as a means of suppressing the vote. 

Businessman Imran Sheikh, 52, registers to vote at a polling station in a school on the day of the general election, in Islamabad, Pakistan February 8, 2024. (credit: REUTERS/Ariba Shahid)

“Pakistan is a long-standing ally of the United States, and we recognize the importance of our relationship for regional stability and counterterrorism efforts. It is in the US interest to ensure that democracy thrives in Pakistan and that election results reflect the interests of the Pakistani people, not the interests of the Pakistani elite and military. We look forward to working with you to show Pakistanis that the US stands with them in their fight for democracy and human rights,” they wrote.

Islamabad has not officially commented on the letter.

Swearing in ceremony

On Thursday, the National Assembly of Pakistan swore in newly elected lawmakers as PTI members continued their protests against alleged election rigging. 

According to media reports, PTI lawmakers yelled “Vote thief!” as former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his brother Nawaz Sharif entered the lower house of parliament.

Interim PTI Chairman Gohar Ali Khan, who serves in the National Assembly, told The Media Line that the party intends to continue protesting inside and outside the assembly, including in a nationwide peaceful protest on Saturday. 

“Our mandate has been stolen,” he said.  

PTI claims that the authorities rigged the election results to keep it from taking the majority. 

The assembly will officially elect the next prime minister on March 3. Despite the resilient performance of independent candidates backed by Imran Khan, an alliance of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will likely take the premiership. 

Under the power-sharing formula, former Prime Minister Sharif of PML-N would serve as prime minister, and during the next elections, PML-N would support PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari.

The potential government would be a “mixed pickle” coalition, similar to the Pakistan Democratic Movement that came to power in April 2022 after ousting Khan.

That coalition government sharply raised gas and electricity prices, sparking nationwide protests.

Fitch Ratings, a US-based credit rating agency, recently expressed its concerns that the political unrest would make it difficult for Pakistan to reach a new aid deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), leading to potentially deleterious economic effects. Pakistan’s current IMF aid deal is set to expire in March 2024.

“A new deal is key to the country’s credit profile, and we assume one will be achieved within a few months, but an extended negotiation or failure to secure it would increase external liquidity stress and raise the probability of default,” the Fitch report read.

In a press conference on Wednesday with senior PTI leadership, PTI Chair Gohar Ali Khan said that former Prime Minister Imran Khan had written a letter to the IMF regarding the current situation. 

“The letter has nothing to do with the IMF’s current program for Pakistan, but it is related to a new deal with the government formed through poll rigging,” Gohar Ali Khan said. 

PTI Secretary General Omar Ayub Khan said during the press conference that Khan had agreed to the IMF program in June 2023 on the condition that free and fair elections take place in Pakistan. 

“Just to remind the IMF of its commitment to guarantee free and fair elections, Khan has drafted this letter,” he said. 

Azeem Khalid, an assistant professor of international relations at COMSATS University Islamabad, told The Media Line that growing scrutiny from the international community underscores the need for an impartial investigation into the allegations. 

“While the United States wields considerable influence on the global stage, its ability to force Pakistan’s powerful establishment to restore what is perceived as a stolen public mandate is limited,” he said, noting that Pakistan has historically maintained a complex relationship with the US.

“Diplomatic efforts may focus on encouraging transparency, accountability, and respect for democratic principles, but any direct intervention in Pakistan’s domestic affairs would likely be met with resistance,” Khalid said. 

Rachel Avraham, an Israel-based Middle East analyst, told The Media Line that the US ought to condemn the alleged election rigging as a means of promoting international democracy and respecting the will of the Pakistani people. 

“Imran Khan’s popularity is the highest it has ever been in Pakistan, as well as globally,” she noted.

“If one considers the Pakistani political landscape, he is the most enlightened politician,” she said. “He enjoys the democratic support of his people and therefore, the US should support him by not recognizing a government that won via election fraud.”

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