When Pakistan’s military spokesman held a press conference earlier this month on emerging threats, Matiullah Jan, a journalist who has written critically of the judiciary and the military, was surprised to see his own picture flash on the screen. The spokesman, Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said Jan and a handful of other journalists and bloggers were anti-state and anti-military. Those are serious allegations in Pakistan, where the military has ruled, directly or indirectly, for most of the country’s history, and where rights groups say it is waging an unprecedented campaign of intimidation ahead of next month’s elections. “He wasn’t specific,” Jan said of the press conference. “But he tried to paint everyone on the so-called slide prepared by intelligence reports with a broad brush as being anti-state and anti-army.
Analysts say the military and a powerful spy agency are trying to maintain their power amid an unusually long period of civilian rule. The July 25 vote will mark the first time the country has held three consecutive elections without a coup, but the armed forces are still believed to wield considerable power behind the scenes.
The security apparatus has zeroed in on the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was forced to step down last year after leaked documents from a Panama law firm revealed he and his family had undisclosed assets abroad. Sharif was banned from politics for life and was also ordered to step down as the leader of his party.