pakistans military is swaying elections now more than ever

A political crackdown has been more visible than those in previous years, analysts say, making this week’s vote among the least credible in the country’s history.

Tucked away on a patch of dying grass on the outskirts of Islamabad, the gathering hardly looked like a political rally at the height of an election season. Two dozen men sat on plastic chairs in silence. There were no posters to promote a campaign, no microphones to deliver speeches, no sound system to amp up the crowd.

Even the candidate, Aamir Mughal, was missing: He had gone into hiding months earlier, at the first signs of a military-led crackdown on his political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or P.T.I. The authorities had already raided his home, arrested two of his sons and lodged a case against him in connection with anti-military protests.

“They are putting pressure on us to quit the party and to quit politics,” Mr. Mughal said in an interview from a safe house where he stayed before emerging for gatherings this weekend. “It’s all part of an effort to weaken and eliminate the party.”

As Pakistan heads to the polls on Thursday, its powerful military is using a familiar playbook to sideline its nemesis of the hour, crippling P.T.I. in the first national election since the party’s leader, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, ran afoul of the generals and was ousted by Parliament in 2022.

P.T.I. candidates have been detained and forced to denounce the party, the candidates say. Their relatives have been arrested and their homes ransacked in an effort to intimidate them, candidates, their relatives and human rights observers say. Officials have prevented other P.T.I. candidates from campaigning, censored news coverage of the party and used internet blackouts to block live-streamed speeches by P.T.I. leaders. The dragnet has also ensnared hundreds of P.T.I. supporters who have been detained.

Police officers detaining a supporter of the P.T.I. party at a recent protest calling for the release of Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan, who has been jailed since August.Asif Hassan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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