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Interim PM Kakar Stirs Controversy with ‘Minus-One’ Remark


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In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar sparked a fresh wave of controversy by suggesting that fair elections in Pakistan could proceed without the participation of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and many members of his party. This statement has reignited discussions surrounding the infamous “minus-one formula,” a political strategy that has haunted Pakistan’s political landscape for decades.

The “minus-one formula” is a tactic involving the removal of a party leader, often orchestrated by external powers, in an attempt to create a power vacuum and sow division within the targeted political party. This strategy has left an indelible mark on Pakistan’s political history, from the tragic assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan to the controversial execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Even in more recent times, we witnessed the imprisonment of Nawaz Sharif just prior to the 2018 elections, highlighting the enduring influence of the “minus-one formula” on Pakistan’s political landscape.

Kakar’s remarks have come at a time of heightened speculation regarding the possibility of Imran Khan becoming the next target of this controversial formula, given his strained relationship with powerful stakeholders in the country. In fact, Imran himself expressed concerns about this possibility last September, suggesting that the government and its backers were actively pursuing the “minus-one formula” due to the PTI’s unwavering popular support.

The question that now looms large is whether Pakistan can move forward with upcoming elections without the presence of Imran Khan. Currently, Imran is behind bars due to his conviction in the Toshakhana case, with subsequent arrests in other cases preventing his release.

Critics argue that Prime Minister Kakar’s statement is inappropriate, given his position as the head of the interim government. They contend that he should adopt a non-partisan approach and refrain from making such statements that can be perceived as taking sides. Eminent scholar Professor Dr. Hassan Askari emphasized the need for careful word selection, particularly in such a sensitive political climate.

While the “minus-one formula” has been attempted multiple times throughout Pakistan’s history, Professor Askari points out that it has never succeeded in achieving long-term stability. This formula typically involves the expulsion of a particular politician and the inclusion of a more obedient replacement. It often leads to a co-optation process and “carefully managed elections” designed to produce a desired outcome.

The crucial question that emerges from this debate is how to ensure free and fair elections while excluding a party leader as significant as Imran Khan, especially considering that the PTI is one of Pakistan’s leading political parties. Professor Askari raises a valid point by noting that expulsion alone cannot change the political reality.

He also highlights that the process of removing politicians has persisted since Pakistan’s independence, with some leaders using tactics even more oppressive than those of former military ruler Zia-ul-Haq. Despite this, the fundamental issue of political instability remains unresolved.

In addition to discussing the “minus-one formula,” Prime Minister Kakar addressed the upcoming parliamentary elections. He dismissed concerns that the powerful military would manipulate the election results to prevent Imran Khan’s party from winning, emphasizing that it’s the Election Commission of Pakistan that will oversee the voting process. Kakar also pointed out that Imran Khan himself appointed the current chief of the Election Commission, reducing any potential for bias.

Regarding Imran Khan’s conviction, Kakar emphasized that he would not interfere with the judiciary’s decisions and stressed that the judiciary should remain independent and impartial, avoiding any use as a tool for political purposes.

Interim Prime Minister Kakar’s recent statement on the possibility of fair elections without Imran Khan has reignited discussions surrounding the “minus-one formula.” This controversial political strategy, with its history of creating power vacuums and divisions, continues to shape Pakistan’s political trajectory. While the debate rages on, the crucial question remains whether Pakistan can move forward with free and fair elections, given the significance of Imran Khan’s presence in the political landscape.

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