Imran Khan has been accused of bowing to religious extremists in Pakistan. Photo: AFP/Aamir Qureshi
Imran Khan could well return to power in Pakistan, and the US must be prepared to deal with him. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi

We live in the times when chaos in societies is created artificially and public consent is manufactured by the use of propaganda to the extent that the masses start to live in the lies created by the techniques of propaganda. In the struggles for power, whoever masters the art of manipulating the minds and opinions of the masses eventually wins the game. The same can be said about the current power game in Pakistan, where both the government backed by invisible forces and the opposition are busy getting their share of the cake.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government despite being backed by the mighty military establishment still is not able to steer the ship of state out of economic and political crisis. The PTI government is unable to give relief to the ordinary masses in terms of reducing inflation or controlling the price increases in utility bills and everyday items.

This failure was always expected as the first artificial chaos was created by the powers that be to oust prime minister Nawaz Sharif, after which a deliberate campaign against the main political parties of the country was launched. Sharif on the other hand after being ousted launched a counter-narrative, and as a result, he exposed the connections between the military and Imran Khan and the engineered political discourse that brought Khan to power. As a result, the country instead of moving forward is stuck in inertia, and political polarization is growing at an alarming rate. The recent attack on Sharif’s residence in London by PTI supporters is proof in this regard, that this polarization is gradually turning into fascism.

On the power chessboard, the establishment despite being discredited along with Imran Khan still holds a firm grip on power. Khan, weakened by his inability to govern, is weathering all the storms. Sharif is ill and out of the game for now, while his lethal weapon, Maryam Nawaz, who was close to turning the tables, is silent, as her uncle Shahbaz Sharif is desperately mending fences with the establishment.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is also not interested in posing a grave threat to the establishment or Khan as its supremo, Asif Zardari, also is ill, and it also has no influence on the main battlefield of power politics that is Punjab province.

Every single player has lost space on this chessboard, but surprisingly no one has tried to knock the others out of the game. To put it simply, this should be an ideal time for Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to launch a massive agitation campaign, and his daughter Maryam could easily lead the charge against the establishment and the incumbent government. However, this is not happening; the cult followers of the PML-N are made to believe that there are two groups prevailing in the party, and Sharif and his daughter Maryam cannot do much about it as Shahbaz Sharif is at the helm of affairs and has the backing of a large number of legislators who don’t want him to lock horns with the establishment. However, in reality, there is no division within the PML-N. Nawaz Sharif is playing the game of good cop in front of his supporters while Shahbaz is being portrayed as a bad cop among the vote bank.

The same is the case with the PPP, which is not willing to take any risks and invite more wrath of the establishment. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman has already tried to flex his muscles and despite being backed by certain quarters within the establishment, he was not able to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan or his backers through his long march.

The writing on the wall is very clear that the current political discourse and its architect are not going anywhere. The PML-N has almost compromised on its narrative of civilian supremacy and the PPP is busy striving for relief for Asif Zardari and to save its provincial government in Sindh. The question is then, why are Khan and his backers still not feeling confident, and uncertainty still prevails in the country?

The answer is that the current political discourse in Pakistan can never get credibility among the global powers. The US has turned a blind eye from the hybrid martial law in Pakistan because it has its own interests in Afghanistan and in the trade war with China. The same is the case with Beijing, which is a big stakeholder in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. To make the global and regional powers happy, the current political leadership and its backers have already compromised on Kashmir, and they are going to deliver whatever the global powers want in Afghanistan as well.

The other thing is that it is not possible for any regime to survive merely on aid and loans from friendly countries or from international financial institutions. The growing anxiety among investors and businesspeople means no more heavy investments in the country.

Then the divide within the establishment is another challenge for the current hybrid regime. However, no political party is a threat to the establishment, and that is the bitter reality. Perhaps the PML-N needs to blamed for this, as the PPP never raised the slogan of civilian supremacy during the past year or so. There is no point in coming to power again by collaborating with the same establishment that not only humiliated Sharif and his party’s leaders but also rigged the entire political discourse.

However, with Maryam also filing an application with the court to exclude her name from the Exit Control List so she can leave for London to see her ailing father, it is clear that Sharif and his party, for now, want to change the narrative of civilian supremacy. For a while, both Sharif and the establishment attracted strong public support for their narratives, but the inability of the PML-N and its leadership to keep walking on the anti-establishment path has given the current government and its backers a new lease on life.

If Khan is being called a puppet for aligning with the establishment and banking on its support to cling to power instead of trusting the masses, then the PML-N and PPP can be termed collaborators with the establishment, providing help to the invisible forces in return for a few temporary reliefs and in the hope of being brought into the power corridors as the new puppets. This is a new kind of battle where all the political players including PTI, the PPP and PML-N are supporting the architect of the game to stay relevant.

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