The deep state in Pakistan is finding it tough to hold the current artificial political discourse together. In the tribal belt, a young man from the Pashtun middle class, Manzoor Pashteen, along with his friends has launched an impressive anti-establishment movement, Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), that is getting stronger every day. Meanwhile the son of late Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has started talking like his mother.
Bilawal is indirectly targeting the military establishment in his press conferences and in public gatherings. However, the establishment has for the moment silenced the PTM by arresting its main leaders and activists and by imposing curfews in the tribal area. Bilawal Bhutto is somehow caught between the political ideologies of his late mother and his father Asif Ali Zardari. Unlike Benazir or Zulfikar Bhutto, Asif Zardari wants to patch things up with the military, as he thinks there is no point in taking on the mighty establishment.
Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, is gradually breaking the shackles and openly stating that she has a different political ideology from her uncle Shahbaz Sharif, who is the president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the absence of his older brother Nawaz. This is not Egypt and we will not let Nawaz Sharif become another Mohamed Morsi, Maryam said in a fierce press conference last Saturday.
Maryam and the PML-N vote bank are of the view that Nawaz Sharif was thrown out of office and eventually jailed through a faceless coup. In her press conference she not only criticized the government and the invisible forces for not allowing her father to get proper medical treatment but also revealed that last year while in prison he suffered a heart attack, and even she was kept in dark about that development.
If that was not enough, Maryam felt no hesitation in accusing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of playing a part in managing the political discourse for the powers that be and warned that the heads of the security institutions must take action on this.
Maryam said that the involvement of the military or ISI in politics eventually makes the security institutions vulnerable to criticism because of the political division among the masses and political parties.
Maryam Nawaz still calls Imran Khan a ‘selected’ prime minister and seems ready to face any consequences for her aggressive style of politics
She still calls Imran Khan a “selected” prime minister and seems ready to face any consequences for her aggressive style of politics.
Maryam also indicated that she wants the PML-N to start an agitation movement against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in order to dethrone Imran Khan, who according to her was brought to power through rigging of the elections last year.
So the deep state is confronted by a troika of Manzoor Pashteen (PTM), Bilawal Bhutto (Pakistan Peoples Party) and Maryam Nawaz (PML-N).
There is no doubt that Pashteen and his PTM have put the invisible forces on the back foot, but the PTM is an ethnic movement, and has no experience of power politics. It can build pressure on the establishment but in the long run, it cannot change the current political discourse.
The PML-N is divided into two narratives – that of Nawaz and Maryam Sharif, which is aggressive and revolves around taking on the establishment, and that of Shahbaz Sharif, which revolves around mending fences with the establishment and letting the current political discourse prevail in order to seek power in near future. However, with each and every passing day, Maryam Nawaz’ narrative is prevailing, and she is asserting her authority in the party gradually. So Maryam clearly is the one who will call the shots in these testing times.
The worry for the deep state is that its former fortress, Punjab, is the battleground this time, and even by using all the previous formulas of victimizing PML-N leaders in the name of accountability, the party is still intact, and its vote bank is becoming angrier with every passing day. Adding to the worries of the deep state is the current economic turmoil that cannot be solved without bringing about political stability.
Help from the West including the US is not sufficient for the invisible forces to keep the current political order intact. Sharif was thrown out of office as neither the US nor Saudi Arabia was happy with his policies of not depending on the West and Riyadh; Sharif instead was focusing on improving ties with regional players like China, Turkey and Russia.
So the deep state might have the backing of Uncle Sam and the Saudi monarchs, but it surely cannot trust the US blindly. After all, there is a love-hate relationship between the US and Pakistan’s establishment that has created doubts between the two old allies.
Without the backing of the US or Saudi Arabia, the establishment in Pakistan would not have succeeded in throwing Sharif out of the office and bringing its puppet Imran Khan into power. The support from the US is conditional, of course, as it seems it was interested in dethroning Sharif only to teach him a lesson for aligning with players like China and Turkey.
The administration of President Donald Trump in Washington is not going to award the old perks and benefits to the establishment in Pakistan as it believes that an economically weak establishment best suits its interests. The same is the case with the Saudi royals, who want to lead the Muslim world and feel threatened by Turkey.
The Saudis also need the help of the Pakistani establishment in their regional conflicts, so it suits them that establishment controls the political proceedings. However, the problem remains that as in many other countries, Pakistani society has gone through a few social changes and it is no longer an obedient society that can be controlled by a colonial mindset.
The Pashtuns are rising in the form of the PTM, the Sindhis are not accepting the current social and political order and the PPP is smartly playing its cards of victimization. Meanwhile Punjab has been divided, as Nawaz Sharif belongs to Punjab and he surely has weakened the previous undisputed hold of the establishment over the province. Punjab is no longer an entirely pro-establishment province, and in the absence of Nawaz, Maryam is playing the game smartly.
In fact, she is more aggressive then her father and her assessment of the timing to take on the establishment is unmatchable and unprecedented as far as the PML-N is concerned. Whether she will be able to turn the tables remains a big question, and whether Punjab is willing to respond to her brand of anti-establishment politics also remains to be seen.
The fact remains, however, that from Fatima Jinnah to Benazir Bhutto and now Maryam Nawaz, the anti-establishment style of politics in Pakistan has always been led by women, which gives this country a unique status as the only Muslim country in the world that elects or follows female leaders in spite of the fact that religion has always been played in politics to weaken the women and to create gender discrimination deliberately. Maryam has successfully resisted this, and her rise in politics can not only weaken the establishment but also the Saudis’ style of religious interpretation that revolves around protecting their own interests only.