An Election Shatters the Image of Pakistan’s Mightiest Force

Theintimidating myth of an all-powerful military in Pakistan has been smashed in public view.

The first cracks began to appear two years ago, when thousands of Pakistanis rallied alongside an ousted prime minister who had railed against the generals’ iron grip on politics. A year later, angry mobs stormed military installations and set them aflame.

Now comes another searing rebuke: Voters turned out in droves this month for candidates aligned with the expelled leader, Imran Khan, despite a military crackdown on his party. His supporters then returned to the streets to accuse the military of rigging the results to deny Mr. Khan’s allies a majority and allow the generals’ favored party to form a government.

The political jockeying and unrest have left Pakistan, already reeling from an economic crisis, in a turbulent muddle. But one thing is clear: The military — long respected and feared as the ultimate authority in this nuclear-armed country of 240 million people — is facing a crisis.

Its rumblings can be heard in once unthinkable ways, out in the open, among a public that long spoke of the military establishment only in coded language.

“Generals should stay out of politics,” said Tufail Baloch, 33, a protester in Quetta, a provincial capital in the country’s restive southwest.

“The military should focus on combating terrorism, not managing the elections,” said Saqib Burni, 33, who demonstrated in Karachi, the country’s most cosmopolitan city.

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