Power, once attained, is never relinquished willingly. It is always snatched away by opposing forces. That is the only rule of power politics, and that is how power works all around the globe. The government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) brought to power by the mighty military establishment in a bid to oust Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and to undermine Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has started to get a taste of its own medicine.
First, the establishment took matters into its own hands on imposing a lockdown to counter the Covid-19 pandemic, and now the judicial activism that once was used to undermine Zardari’s PPP and Sharif’s PML-N has turned against the Imran Khan-led PTI.
Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed in his latest hearing of a suo motu notice not only called the government incompetent in its handling of the pandemic crisis, he also strongly suggested that many of the advisers to the cabinet of Prime Minister Imran Khan are corrupt. The court verbally ordered the government to remove Dr Zafar Mirza, the special assistant to the prime minister on health, as he is neither honest nor competent. However, at the request of the attorney general, the Supreme Court refrained from issuing a written order for Mirza’s removal.
So change is clearly on the horizon. Once the blue-eyed boy of the establishment, Imran Khan is gradually becoming a burden, and it is seeking a way out.
Right now it is the opposition that holds the cards, as only the PML-N and PPP can bail the establishment out in this time of crisis as Covid-19, besides taking human lives, has hit the economy badly. If the PML-N and PPP both agree on an in-house change, a government with the backing of almost all the political parties and even a faction of PTI itself could be formed, and the current crisis of lack of leadership thwarted.
However, the question remains: Why should opposition parties like the PPP and PML-N bother to save the face of the establishment when sooner or later its ship is bound to founder?
Besides that, the establishment that rigged the entire political discourse to bring Khan into power and to oust the PML-N and further weaken the PPP will also be divided on whether to give a share of power to Sharif’s PML-N in Islamabad or Punjab.
The political career of Sharif is a testimony that he always takes on the establishment when he gets a share of power, whereas the PPP silently resists the hegemony of the establishment by bringing in constitutional changes like the 18th Amendment, which not only granted a measure of autonomy to the provinces but in a way stopped the direct intervention of the establishment in the form of martial law.
Some in the establishment would not like to risk the return of Sharif’s PML-N in Islamabad or in Punjab, as the “revolution” they manufactured was certainly not about giving power to Imran Khan but to keep their hegemony intact.
As the famous English novelist George Orwell said, “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish a dictatorship.” So after the whole system was rigged to get rid of Sharif’s PML-N and to bring Khan to power, for many it is unlikely that the establishment will give any space to that party on the power chessboard, as it would risk its hegemony over state affairs.
However, since September last year, things have been not in full control of the invisible forces. The inability of Khan to attract foreign investment and to run the economy, and a witch-hunt against the opposition using the courts and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that yielded no results in terms of keeping political leaders in jail or costing them popular support, damaged the credibility and hegemony of establishment.
That was the reason that first Nawaz Sharif along with his younger brother Shahbaz was allowed to travel to Britain on health grounds, and then Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur both were released on bail. This was the first retreat of the establishment.
Then during the long march and sit-in of Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, the head of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUIF), allegedly backed by a certain section within the establishment, it lost more space, and both the PPP and PMLN cashed in on Fazal’s campaign. Then came the fiasco over the extension of the tenure of General Qamar Javed Bajwa as Chief of Army Staff when the Supreme Court directed the parliament either to amend the law to authorize the extension or appoint a new COAS.
At this juncture, irritated by the incompetence of the PTI government to handle the COAS extension case in court, the establishment was again aided by the PML-N and the PPP. In power politics, there is no free lunch, so the favors given by the opposition parties resulted in the establishment’s refusal to manipulate the system and back the PTI’s witch-hunts.
Khan tried to arrest a few more opposition leaders in the name of accountability, but without the backing of the establishment, he was not able to keep them behind bars for long. Then came the Covid-19 outbreak and the global recession. Pakistan, as a result, is faced with the daunting task of not only saving the lives of its citizens but also somehow to save its already weak economy from collapsing.
Even if the pandemic had not arrived it would have been difficult for the establishment to keep its hegemony intact, as their experience of bringing Khan to power had already failed miserably. The pandemic and its impacts on the economy have only further highlighted the failure of this hybrid regime.
So contrary to many pundits who think that the establishment is invincible and the compromises of the PML-N and PPP will give it a chance to regain its control on the power chessboard, the situation is entirely different. Both Sharif and Zardari, being seasoned politicians, have given ample time for this regime to expose its own failures so the general masses can understand that Imran Khan was nothing but the face of the invisible forces.
A political consensus is the need of the hour, and the establishment has realized that this can only be achieved by not undermining the genuine political parties. So Zardari’s PPP and Sharif’s PML-N both are in the game, and Khan almost out of it. The question remains whether Sharif and Zardari will insist that the invisible forces fix the rules of the power chessboard by taking a back seat and not intervening in the domain of elected governments.
The judicial activism also needs to be stopped, as even if it is against Khan, it is actually only weakening democracy and the office of the prime minister. Change in the power corridors is inevitable, but its success will depend on whether the opposition is content with merely a change of puppets or if it is ready to hold its nerve and work to change the entire hybrid regime.
If Imran Khan was wrong to seize power on the back of the invisible forces, democratic parties like the PML-N and PPP would also be wrong to align with the establishment just to dethrone Khan and not pressure the military establishment to return to its constitutional role. As the famous American philosopher Noam Chomsky has said, “If it’s wrong when they do it, it’s wrong when we do it.”
Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.