Supporters of Imran Khan and his PTI cheer as they attend a political campaign rally ahead of the 2018 general election, in Multan on July 20, 2018. Photo: AFP / SS Mirza

This Saturday, July 25, marks the second anniversary of the date when the generals of the military establishment successfully brought Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) into power through a blatantly and systemically rigged general election.

The establishment’s game started with the staging of a sit-in by Imran Khan against the government of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in 2014 and then by playing the blasphemy card against the PML-N by supporting the Faizabad sit-in of religious outfit Tehreek-e-Labbaik.

Not only did Tehreek-e-Labbaik manage to create an impression that Nawaz Sharif and his party were against the religion, but in the election its candidates in every constituency of Punjab province drew votes away from the PML-N.

On July 25, 2018, the day of the general election, at the results of voting where PML-N had a strong support base started coming in, the results of many constituencies were delayed, and then in the evening the Results Transmission System (RTS) was crashed deliberately.

Then came the tweets from the then director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major-General Asif Ghafoor, taunting the PML-N after the election result.

It is next to impossible that such statements would be made by any servants of the governments in any other civilized country of the world.

But while the establishment was celebrating its victory by defeating a political party through rigging and by stealing the mandate of the people of Punjab, little did it know that it was entering a quagmire. As expected, Imran Khan, a man devoid of critical thinking and not versed with state affairs, badly failed in every domain of governance.

However, the establishment was confident that with the help of Khan not only would it malign the democratic system and the democratic parties but it would steer the ship from behind the curtains. After all, the PML-N when thrown out of power through an engineered electoral process, left the economy in good shape, with GDP growing at 5.79% year on year.

During Sharif’s tenure, not only had the PML-N successfully overcome the electricity crisis but it was also able to bring the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to the country, and Sharif’s infrastructure mega-projects of highways, power plants, a laptop scheme for students, and business-friendly economic policies all kept the economy ticking, and the country was on the path to progress.

Not to forget the operation against terrorists like Zarb-e-Azb, which was successful because Sharif’s PML-N government owned the operation and convinced its vote bank that eliminating the terrorists and banning extremist outfits were good for the betterment of the country.

So for anyone who was sitting on the throne it was only about keeping the economic progress intact. However, it did not happen that way, and from the International Monetary Fund to the Arab monarchs, everyone dictated their terms and conditions in return for the favors they gave to Pakistan’s hybrid regime.

But the hybrid regime ran into a credibility issue, and soon Khan and his backers in the establishment realized that their witch-hunt against the political leadership was failing and that the fear of politically motivated “accountability” probes, many investors and businessmen were taking their money out of the country.

Then came the decisions to devalue the currency against the US dollar, and that hurt the economy badly.

The Kashmir fiasco, where Pakistan was not able to assess the intentions of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal Article 370 of the constitution, which ended the independent position of Jammu and Kashmir, was a setback for both the establishment and Khan. What came next was Pakistan’s failure to highlight human-rights violations and the plight of Kashmiri Muslims around the globe.

The Malaysia Summit fiasco, where Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman stopped Prime Minister Imran Khan from participating as he thought that the summit was a threat to Riyadh’s hegemony over the Muslim world, exposed the dictated foreign policy of the hybrid regime.

The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) fiasco, the army chief extension fiasco, the wheat and sugar scandal, the ordinance for the construction sector at the time of Covid-19 to benefit a few property tycoons, and amnesty schemes to forgive tax evaders all exposed the incompetence and corruption of PTI, and it proved the point that the military establishment lacks the skills to run the economy or the political discourse.

However, the establishment has not learned its lesson from the time when General Ayub Khan took charge and imposed martial law in 1958. Since then no military dictator, whether visible or invisible, has been able to produce results for Pakistan, nor have any of them been able to steer the country out of poverty and corruption.

Two years on from July 2018, the establishment’s man, Imran Khan, who was selected as prime minister by the powers that be, has only brought back the curbs on freedom of expression, muzzled the press, and become preoccupied with a witch-hunt against the opposition parties.

Even the generals supporting him are clueless about how to get out of the self-created turmoil as political stability still is not in sight, while the post-Covid era is going to test every single economy around the globe.

Rhetoric or conquering the system again and again can give satisfaction to a few bigwigs in the establishment or to pawns like Imran Khan, but in reality, it cannot thwart the challenges faced by the country. It was all a farce right from the start.

Many in the masses who fell prey to the propaganda of “Naya Pakistan” have started to realize that it was just more eyewash by the establishment to oust Sharif from power as he was gradually becoming a threat to the hegemony of the military elite.

The problem is that there is always a price to be paid for a mistake, so the masses are paying that price now as the deteriorating economic situation and rising inflation have almost made it impossible for the common man to survive. Meanwhile the establishment has lost its credibility even in the uneducated segment of the masses.

Those who rigged the political discourse to discredit political leaders have themselves lost their credibility, whereas Sharif still enjoys the popular vote bank in Punjab and in the Hazara belt. The problem remains that this battle for power has pushed the country into deeper troubles.

The future for the majority of the people remains dark, as the hybrid regime even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic instead of allocating more funds for poverty alleviation or for health or education has increased the defense budget.

Generations have seen their dreams of a better future shattered as the state never had as a priority the development of its own citizens, and an unfair division of power has never tilted the balance in the favor of elected representatives.

The question arises as to how many more generations will be bound by the invisible chains of slavery and will be denied the basic rights of freedom to expression and access to health care and education. The rigged political discourse surely has deprived another generation of its future and has further weakened the democratic process.

This is a lesson, for those who want to learn, that conquering your own system, again and again, is of no use and is a journey of blind circles. Two years after the rigged political discourse was created the question is not how long this hybrid regime will stay intact, the question is who will repair the damage once the rigged discourse will be scuttled, and will there be any chance of damage control at that time?

Right now it is not Sharif or the PML-N who are bearing the brunt of the rigged ballot, it is the country itself, which is only moving in a blind circle in search of a miracle to get free of its self-inflicted wounds.

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.

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