Police are present as Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the President of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) leads a protest in Lahore, Pakistan on July 13, 2018. This comes as PML-N supporters try to reach the airport to protest in favor of Nawaz Sharif, attempting to welcome him and his daughter Maryam Nawaz back from London. All routes going towards the airport are now blocked by containers.

The most controversial elections in the recent history in Pakistan are over. Finally the puppet of the establishment, Imran Khan, appears to have managed to win power. However, there is no credibility in the initial results, as almost all the major political parties have rejected them. The reason is pre-poll rigging and the unusual delay in announcing the results in the constituencies.

The Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf appears to have won around 117 seats in the National Assembly, while Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N managed to win 63 seats. It was expected that in order to rule from behind the curtains, the military establishment would bring in a new puppet.

The encouraging thing, however, is that in the province of Punjab, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) has emerged as the single largest party and it will likely form a government in that province – depending on the approval of the military establishment. Meanwhile the Pakistan Peoples Party will form a government in the province of Sindh.

Nothing has changed, as it is the same old script – throw the popular leader out of the power and then bring in a puppet with a fractured mandate and a very thin majority so he can be manipulated easily.

Imran Khan is the new mask of the invisible forces who have ruled this country for the last 71 years. PML-N was doomed when Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz took charge of the electoral campaign. Shahbaz undermined the narrative of his elder brother Nawaz Sharif and in his efforts to appease the establishment he lost the momentum and pace set by Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz.

Of the opposition parties, the Asif Ali Zardari-led PPP will be the happiest of all as it somehow managed to retain the seats from the province of Sindh. But more than any political player it is the military establishment that will be feeling happy as it got the desired result. A coalition government of PTI in the center and the Shahbaz Sharif-led PML-N with the support of independents or the PPP in the province of Punjab is an ideal situation for them as both leaders will be dictated to easily.

However, the war of narratives is not over. Sharif’s narrative of “respect my vote” is pretty much alive and a sizable population in Punjab believes in it. If Sharif could only have trusted real political workers like Mushaidullah Khan, Pervaiz Rashid or Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, things would have been different for him. By choosing an anti-establishment path, the mistake Sharif made was relying on his brother and the other stalwarts of the party who do not want to challenge the status quo. Probably time will teach him that this path needs a team that is clear in vision and not afraid to take on the powers that be.

In any case, victory is victory, and it is not important how PTI won. What is important is how Imran Khan acts from now on: That will determine the future course of the country and of PTI itself.

His victory speech from his residence in Islamabad was good, as unlike his past rhetoric and tall claims, he talked about smoothing relations with India, along with the promise to address all the complaints about the rigging of the general elections. This is a good start – with the army establishment at his back, Khan will find it easy to start a dialogue with India and to devise a new foreign policy regarding China and Afghanistan dictated by the military establishment.

If somehow Khan can deliver on the economic front and if he can initiate some development mega-projects in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, he might be able to get out of the shadow of the military establishment. The problem lies with the establishment, not with the politicians; as long as the military machine is in power and is controlling proceedings from behind the curtains, no politician will be able to address the basic flaws in the system. One hopes that Imran Khan will not meet the same fate as Sharif and Zulfikar Bhutto.

The shrewd generals of the military establishment have achieved their target: Each and every voice that questioned their invisible rule is being silenced, and anti-establishment politicians like Mahmood Achakzai and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi lost the election. So Imran Khan has a very tight rope to walk on as the military establishment will not allow him to do much when it comes to foreign policy and the defense budget.

As for Sharif’s PML-N, it is the time to realize that if it wants to exist in this modern era, it needs to take a stand on principles rather than just concentrating on grabbing power. Sharif and Maryam Nawaz stood for principles, but Shahbaz Sharif with his obedience to the military proved very costly for the PML-N.

In any case, it is the military-backed Imran Khan who will run the show and it will take years of patience for Sharif’s PML-N to gather itself again and pose a serious threat to the invisible rule of the establishment. For now, it is the military generals’ man Imran Khan who has won the general election, and civilian and democratic supremacy still remains a dream in Pakistan.

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Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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