Is Democracy Dying in Pakistan?

How the Military and Judiciary Threaten the Upcoming Elections

Supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League march towards the airport to welcome ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam, in Lahore, Pakistan, July 2018.  Mohsin Raza / REUTERS

Pakistan’s upcoming general elections on July 25 may be the most tense and fraught in the country’s brief period of democracy, and there are lingering doubts about whether they will even be held on time. In Pakistan, the political establishment appears to be following the example of Turkey and Egypt, where those in power clamped down on the media and intimidated civil society just before holding a vote. Although the elections are being supervised by a neutral interim civilian government, the real power appears to rest with Pakistan’s military and the judiciary, which see undiluted democracy as a threat.


The crackdown by Pakistan’s army and judiciary has extended to civil society activists, bloggers, and human rights workers. But the primary target has been media outlets. Consider Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest and largest-circulation English-language newspaper, which has faced a spate of threats, bans, and severe censorship. As punishment for reporting critically on the tense relationship between the military and judicial establishment on one side, and civilian politicians on the other, the army has restricted Dawn’s sale in bases across the country. Distributors, meanwhile, have been told not to sell it, TV providers are refusing to run its news channel, and the newspaper is unavailable in large parts of Balochistan, the country’s largest province.

“Our hawkers are being stopped, they are being threatened and they have had their newspapers removed,” Hameed Haroon, chief executive of the Dawn Media Group, told a gathering of senior editors in mid-June. He also said the freedom of the press was being undermined by “state institutions.”

The national media environment is dismal. Pakistan ranks 139 out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Censorship and self-censorship on issues that cast the military in a negative light have become pervasive. Many TV stations, for example, are refusing to cover a new protest movement by young Pashtuns that accuses the military and others of human rights abuses against members of their

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