Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, right. with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman after his arrival in Islamabad last year. Pakistani-Saudi relations have since deteriorated. Photo: AFP / Pakistan PM's House handout

The witch-hunt against the opposition is the only thing the hybrid regime in Pakistan is capable of. Ever since the government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was installed by the military establishment, its only achievement has been arrests of its political opponents. PTI is a bunch of right-wing traditional status quo politicians who are famous for changing their loyalties as soon the winds change or a new signal is given by the establishment. Other than using the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as a tool to victimize its political opponents, the PTI government and its backers have achieved nothing.

The new year according to many political insiders will bring an end to the unsuccessful Naya Pakistan project, which was aimed at running the country from behind the curtains with Prime Minister Imran Khan as its public face.

George Orwell in his famous novel Animal Farm wrote, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This is exactly the case in Pakistan, where members of opposition parties are considered less equal than the opportunist politicians who are working as the face of the current hybrid martial law in Pakistan.

On Monday the NAB arrested Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) secretary general Ahsan Iqbal on charges of corruption involving the Narowal Sports City complex. Iqbal, who is famous for his intellectual ability and insights on policy matters and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is not the first to be arrested by the NAB on unproven charges of corruption. There is a long list of dissenting politicians who have been sent behind bars, while Prime Minister Imran Khan claims that he is fulfilling his promise of accountability for all.

However, this is not the case; Khan himself knows that he is gradually walking on the path of self-destruction, and eventually this artificial political discourse has to meet its logical end by collapsing because of poor governance, lack of ability to address economic and political turmoil, and an unsuccessful foreign policy, which not only resulted in no international support on the Kashmir fiasco but also gave an opportunity to Riyadh to assert its control.

Khan’s backers, weakened by dissent within and after recently retired chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa demolishing the political hegemony of the establishment, now have very limited options for the establishment to turn the tide back in its favor. Given the PML-N’s silence and Pakistan Peoples Party’s diplomatic stance, the opposition parties are no threat to the establishment, but the uncontrollable crisis of governance and moving in a direction that has no ultimate objective other than to keep this artificial political discourse intact at any cost are more than enough to scuttle this hybrid regime.

The PTI government on Monday also refused to give permission to the PPP to hold a public memorial in Rawalpindi on the death anniversary of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27. And a few days ago the NAB also summoned PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto, who refused to appear. The recent arrest of Ahsan Iqbal, a man widely respected for his political acumen and wisdom, and not allowing the PPP to stage a public gathering in memory of Benazir Bhutto, are clear indications that Khan lacks the ability to rise above personal grudges and that he is the new version of the late military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who was famous for not rising above petty politics.

Since Khan has a fan club that was created by the establishment through organized propaganda and remains brainwashed, right now the only thing he is hearing is the applause and jubilation of blind followers. Perhaps somewhere in their jubilation Khan is seeking refuge from his dismal performance in governance and his negligence that eventually brought Pakistan under the indirect control of Saudi Arabia.

The opposition, which lacks the guts to dismantle this hybrid regime once and for all, is trying its best to mend fences with the establishment, despite its members being sent to prison one by one. However, the dissenting voices from civil society and a large segment of the masses are becoming louder and louder. This presents a gloomy picture for the powers that be who are controlling the country through sloganeering as the sole defenders of the country’s ideological borders and shaping the political discourse in the name of patriotism. This propaganda is not salable any more to those who are gradually becoming aware of the visible and invisible dynamics of the political history of Pakistan and do not believe the state narratives.

Perhaps the establishment and Khan can live with their respective fan clubs in the illusion that everything is all right, but the reality is not going to change, the reality that is gradually opening the eyes of many. Reality is destroying the false narratives of the establishment and proving each and every promise of Khan wrong, as he has only sold the old formula of accountability and promised the masses that he had a magic wand that would solve all their problems within days or months.

The elite and upper middle class, joined by those who lack the basic skills of critical thinking, can prolong the process leading to the fall of this hybrid regime, but they cannot stop the inevitable – the end of this regime sooner or later, with the establishment narrative of ruling this country from behind the scenes finally dying. No amount of propaganda or fascist measures like sending opposition members to prison and silencing the dissenting voices can stop this downfall.

The economy was always the key factor in deciding the outcome of this battle, and despite the propaganda, it is sinking at a very alarming pace, with one of the lowest economic growth rates (2.8%) and highest inflation rates (12%) in South Asia.

Contrary to what many analysts predict, that the PTI government itself wants to get rid of Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and that is why it is launching a fresh crackdown against the opposition so legislation on the extension of his tenure as COAS cannot be passed in parliament, the situation is completely different. Imran Khan and the current bigwigs of the establishment are lifelines for each other. If Bajwa departs as a result of not getting an extension of his tenure, it will be game over for Khan, as the new high command in the military establishment will end his Naya Pakistan project.

This will not end the political hegemony of the establishment, but shutting down Naya Pakistan by the new army chief or even by Bajwa himself will eventually weaken the grip of the establishment on the political chessboard. The question is: How many years will be needed to repair the damage caused by this failed experiment, and when will the establishment finally will go back to its constitutional role and leave the affairs of state to the political players?

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