Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif addresses supporters during a rally in Gujranwala, near Lahore, in a file photo. Photo: Reuters/Mohsin Raza

The political turmoil in Pakistan is getting deeper and deeper with every passing day. The current regime of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is busy trying to stop Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman’s long march from reaching Islamabad, planning to seize all the routes from where the protesters can enter the federal capital. But perhaps even more than Prime Minister Imran Khan, a faction within the military establishment is feeling the heat.

On Monday night, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was moved to a hospital after his personal physician Dr Adnan Khan tweeted that Sharif’s platelet count was extremely low. After the news appeared, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers gathered in front of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) office and chanted slogans against the government and its backers. This must be an alarming situation for the ruling elite, as the anger against Imran Khan and the establishment is reaching a boiling point.

Sharif was always going to prove more dangerous from behind bars, as if anything were to happen to him, the backlash from the province of Punjab would be beyond the control of even the mightiest security establishment. While the media attention was focused on Sharif, the government arrested his son-in-law, retired Captain Muhammad Safdar Awan, while he was coming to see Sharif in the hospital.

Now with each and every step of crushing opposition, the PTI regime is only moving faster toward the end. The co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Asif Zardari, is also being denied the fundamental right of access to medical treatment despite being a heart patient with diabetes. This shows the lack of political acumen of Khan and his party, as a government with just a little understanding of the nature of politics would know that it takes only one event to trigger a mass movement against any regime, and the throne given by the invisible forces can be taken back at any time.

Imran Khan’s weak government is surviving only on the ventilator provided by the establishment, and it remains to be seen whether the latter will use Khan’s ouster as a bargaining chip to make sure the current top military brass remains at the helm of affairs or it will go to any extent to preserve the status quo. On the other hand, there are questions over the political strategy adopted by the current PML-N leadership, which somehow is roaming freely despite the massive crackdown against the party.

As long as Maryam Nawaz was at the helm of party affairs it was evident that the PML-N was giving a tough time to the establishment and the PTI government, but after her arrest the lackluster party leadership is only conducting traditional status quo politics and seems ready to replace Khan with another puppet.

So the question remains, who will bail out the establishment at a time when it is written on the wall that sooner or later it will suffer its first-ever defeat in the political history of the country?

Sharif has risked everything to turn the tables and so has his daughter Maryam, who is being kept in solitary confinement for a crime that has not yet been proved in any court of law. So the question remains, who will bail out the establishment at a time when it is written on the wall that sooner or later it will suffer its first-ever defeat in the political history of the country? Sharif may be suffering from health problems, but his resolve is commendable, and with massive support from the province of Punjab, it is impossible for him to bail the establishment out of the current situation.

Meanwhile the PPP, after being cheated on many occasions by the powers that be, also seems less interested in providing any relief to the establishment. Perhaps this is the reason many of the leaders of the PPP are also behind bars.

So both the PML-N and PPP seem ready to pay the price of their resistance against the PTI and its backers. The religious card, which once was used by the establishment to weaken elected governments, is now going to be used against the establishment and the current government by the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (F) of Fazal-ur-Rehman.

As well, the sword of the Financial Action Task Force is still hanging over Pakistan’s neck as the country is being kept on the gray list, and the FATF will again review Pakistan’s performance in February. The Kashmir fiasco and the regular fights with India at the Line of Control are also problems, as with the economy in shambles the country cannot afford to have tension on the borders with India. So it is a dead-end street from which the establishment can only escape if it is ready to make a retreat on the power chessboard.

Sharif’s narrative of “respect the vote” has snatched the sacred-cow status away from the establishment in Punjab, which once was a traditional pro-establishment province. Little did the invisible forces know that while rigging the political discourse they actually were not ousting Sharif from Punjab but were ousting themselves from the power chessboard.

It is in the best interests of the country that the establishment take a back seat and let the Election Commission of Pakistan hold fair and free fresh elections. A face-saving exit is what the establishment should look for. It needs to understand that it is not the state itself but only an organ of the state, and neither is it invincible nor is it above the constitution of the country. It also needs to get out of the illusion that it is the sole institution that is vital for the survival of the country.

A teacher who is providing education in a far-flung village in Balochistan, a doctor working around the clock to save lives, a policeman dying while trying to stop terrorists or an electrician trying to fix the electricity for the cities; a judge upholding the constitutions, a lawyer fighting to get justice for a fellow citizen – every one in his or her own capacity is making sacrifices for the betterment of the country, while journalists or politicians are accused of treason for criticizing the flaws in government services.

It is the constitution that is supreme, and it clearly states that the military establishment has no right to intervene in politics or in shaping the ideological narratives of the country. Even the short history of the country testifies that the establishment’s interventions have only weakened democracy and brought self-inflicted economic and political turmoil to the country. It is the time that the invisible forces make a face-saving exit and let the elected representatives run the affairs of the state. Otherwise, the damage to the economy and the political and social fabrics will become beyond repair.

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