A representative image of a Pakistani soldier with machine gun with national flag of Pakistan. iStock

When the Pakistani military establishment laid the foundation for a new doctrine according to which it would force the civilian government into submission and unofficially censor the media, it was certain that it would achieve its goal of ruling from behind while eating the share of the cake that was denied it by the previous government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

It was not like the PML-N government had full authority over these matters, but because of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s consistent efforts to assert his authority, and former finance minister Ishaq Dar’s resistance to allocating more resources to the establishment and the famous Dawn Leaks case, in which Sharif asked the military establishment to clean up its own back yard by acting against banned outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammed and Jamadul Dawa, the generals considered Sharif a threat for their hegemony.

Sharif’s effort to achieve peace with India through his close ties with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and his refusal to give a big share of cake to the establishment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor proved to be the last nail in the coffin of the old General Kayani doctrine, which was aimed at controlling the proceedings from behind with a swift approach and by taking a “stick and carrot” approach to working with political leaders.

The generals who staged an undeclared coup against the Sharif government with the help of former chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar had to come out into the open to stop Sharif from coming to power at any cost, and eventually they succeeded in their mission but at the price of their credibility in their own fortress of Punjab province. With Sharif jailed and Asif Zardari, the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), facing multiple corruption charges, the engineers of the new doctrine thought the newly installed government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf could deliver the desired results by improving the country’s economy, which began the journey into turmoil after Sharif was thrown out of office by a court decision.

Meanwhile, the emergence of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) from the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa kept threatening the hegemony of the establishment by arranging massive protests around the country, asking the military establishment to return to its role of protecting the borders instead of denying people their fundamental human rights in the name of security and hybrid warfare. Hybrid warfare is the new term the generals have invented to crush dissent and weaken the narrative of Sharif’s civilian supremacy. So even after the ouster of Sharif and the tying of the hands of the PPP, the establishment encountered resistance in the form of PTM. On the other hand, the inept and inexperienced PTI government installed by the establishment failed miserably on the governance front.

The inept and inexperienced PTI government installed by the establishment failed miserably on the governance front

The economic policies it devised achieved no positive results, the country’s exports fell and the trade deficit increased, and the circular debt reached a new level with foreign reserves dwindling all the time in spite of help from the rulers of the Gulf states. The government has tried to reduce the deficit in the national exchequer.

However, it seems unlikely that it will work as the masses are left to bear the brunt of the games played behind the curtains. Imran Khan has fulfilled the biggest dream of his life by becoming prime minister, but he is as powerless as Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, who cannot remove any public servant without the approval of Khan. But Khan still has the egotistical satisfaction of calling himself prime minister.

The generals who are calling the shots find themselves in a tough situation. They have to act against the banned militant organizations due to immense diplomatic pressure and now they are cleaning their own backyard.

Dialogue with India

Sharif always advocated dialogue with India, and he was called a national-security threat and a friend of Modi, but now the generals are trying everything they can to engage in dialogue with India. Khan himself said he tried to contact Modi on many occasions but never got a response. The recent press conference of Bilawal Bhutto after meeting with Sharif in jail indicates that the PPP is also ready to go to battle. During the presser, Bilawal clearly stated that there cannot be a dual standard of justice and that no one can be given the status of “holy cow.”

He questioned why the political leaders’ assets can be checked but not the assets of the banned outfits, and why their financiers cannot be exposed with the help of a joint investigation team. Referring to his grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his mother Benazir and the jailed ex-PM, Bilawal explained why only the political leadership of the country has to bear the brunt. This means Bilawal and his PPP are ready to adopt the old style of politics as they have probably realized that in almost all the provinces other than Sindh, the wind is blowing against pro-establishment politics and that unity among the opposition is the need of the hour to push the establishment-backed government to the brink of an abyss.

So for the generals who promoted Khan as a savior of the nation and were happy to control the discourse from behind the curtains, things are getting tougher day by day. They know it will not be easy to regain the power they once enjoyed while the economy is in shambles and social media is spreading awareness among the masses who have still not been brainwashed by their propaganda. The hegemony they once enjoyed was weakened by the likes of Benazir Bhutto and Sharif, and with the new lot of anti-establishment politicians like Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal Bhutto, the generals will find it tough to maneuver on the political chessboard. And not to forget Manzoor Pashteen, who has virtually pushed the establishment on to the back foot with PTM, a peaceful movement. Even the lifeless media that are subject to unseen curbs cannot bring success for the establishment by spreading propaganda around the clock.

The generals are slowly but surely falling into their own trap, and with Khan helpless on the governance front, it is only a matter of time before they start feeling the heat like Pervez Musharraf, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and Ayub Khan did when they lost the game. It’s time for the generals to return to their constitutional role and let the political discourse take its own shape.

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