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After fracturing Nawaz Sharif‘s mandate and injuring him politically, the invisible forces are now busy tightening the noose on the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Asif Ali Zardari, and his aides.

Because of the way things were designed, it was not difficult to understand that sooner or later the Zardari-led PPP would face the music soon. The new doctrine of the military establishment revolves around the correction of the political structure in Pakistan, and in order to do so, it is thought that the two main parties should gradually be thrown off the political horizon.

As per this doctrine, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) was the first target, and the judicial establishment achieved this goal by disqualifying Sharif from the office of prime minister on charges of corruption. A far-right religious party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, was also launched to dent the PML-N vote bank. TLP consists of the Barelvi sect, and before its launch, a large chunk of Barelvi votes went to PML-N. The TLP successfully divided the votes and its presence denied the PML-N a few dozen seats in the province of Punjab. It also emerged as the third-largest electoral political force in Punjab.

Sharif’s demise was seen as a political advantage by Zardari but he soon found out that it was his turn to face the music. During all this time Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, tried to mend fences with the establishment, but much to his disappointment he too was not accommodated, and he is currently in the custody of the  National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Zardari and his close aides are facing legal cases on the alleged laundering of billions of rupees. The same is the case with PML-N stalwarts who are facing multiple corruption inquiries being conducted by the NAB and in the courts.

Both the PML-N and PPP are busy getting out of this stranglehold, which has provided an open field for the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI ) to gain political advantage. The Khan-led government has virtually no opposition to contest as both the PPP and PML-N are just trying to deal with the cases against them.

Prime Minister Khan and his cabinet have failed miserably to gain from the situation by not displaying good planning skills and vision. With the full backing of the establishment and no active opposition, it was expected that the PTI government would sail smoothly as the establishment made sure it faced no hindrances in running state affairs. However, to the contrary, like his predecessors, Khan has found it very difficult to control the religious extremist outfits, and he seems to have no authority over state matters. Most of the decisions inside the country are made by the bureaucracy and the judiciary. Judicial activism and a cold response from the bureaucracy are making it hard for Khan to pursue his agenda and with each passing day, he is being discredited.

The recent protests against the Asia Bibi acquittal that choked the country presented the true picture of Khan’s helplessness when it comes to making executive decisions. The establishment-backed Khadim Rizvi, a cleric and head of TLP who was protesting against the acquittal of Asia Bibi, jeopardized the country for two days and in the end, it was Khan and his government who were made to surrender.

Perhaps it was a signal that in the grand scheme of things even Khan and his political party will not be required. In order to show that Rizvi has nothing to do with the establishment, he and other leaders also bashed the military.

However, it does not change the fact that the new non-state actor that is considered a strategic asset for the establishment is Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. This means the state’s long-term love affair with the Deobandi hardline groups is over. It is the turn of Brevli hardliners to implement the policies of the deep state.

While Imran Khan finds it extremely difficult to run the internal affairs of the country, he is also not allowed to take control of foreign policy

While Khan finds it extremely difficult to run the internal affairs of the country, he is also not allowed to take control of foreign policy. This means that the aim is not just to disintegrate Sharif’s PML-N and Zardari’s PPP – the ultimate aim is to discredit the whole political system. This gives birth to a question: If Khan is not allowed to perform, how will the deep state manage the country, and who will be the new political face of the deep state? The likely answer is that the deep state is working to completely change the existing political structure in Pakistan.

The masses are fed up with the failures of the main centrist parties and don’t like their narratives. For sure, the PPP and PML-N were not able to deliver the desired results, but no one can deliver results when the actual power lies with the deep state.

This does not imply that the PPP to a large extent and PML-N in a few areas were not able to address the genuine issues concerning the masses. Coming back to the game, the establishment, by reviving the far-right religious group TLP, has given a clear indication that it will not allow any political regime to shun the old doctrine of producing extremists that use extremists groups as a proxy to keep a large chunk of the masses hostage to the religious beliefs integrated with the narrative of national interest.

In order to keep a check on Khan, Nawaz Sharif is being given breathing space, and he understands the establishment’s strategies and signals more than any contemporary political leader in Pakistan. So Sharif has chosen to remain silent and has virtually ended his political activities for the time being. His political heir, Maryam Nawaz, a very active anti-establishment politician who built the “respect my vote” campaign against the establishment, is also being stopped from resuming her political activities and she has almost disappeared from the political scene.

As a result, Sharif and his daughter both are still granted relief by the courts and are out of prison and living in the comfort of their home. But only time will tell how long they will remain submissive.

Meanwhile, Shahbaz is being kept in the custody of the NAB, just in case Sharif tries to show his muscle or if the establishment needs Shahbaz as a backup. After all, going to prison gives Shahbaz much-needed respect and stature among PML-N voters. If Khan somehow fails, Sharif will be used as a backup, and TLP will be there to keep a check on him. If Khan manages to survive, slowly and gradually he will be discredited like Sharif and TLP will be used to declare him a Western agent.

In any case, the dirty games will continue and as a result, Pakistan will remain hostage to the deep state and its doctrines. The media under censorship will remain silent and the constitutional amendments required to benefit the deep state will be easier to make as a result.

The masses who think the current system is being overhauled are living in a state of hallucination, as this game is all about having a firm grip on power.

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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