Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was blamed for all the nation's problems, including those that occurred under his successor Imran Khan. Photo: Reuters / Faisal Mahmood

The thrice-elected prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, was sent packing by the military establishment using the old sloganeering of being corrupt. Imran Khan, the current prime minister, who played into the hands of the establishment, was given around-the-clock television coverage to sabotage the image of Sharif and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

It was the biggest ever mainstream and digital media campaign run by the establishment to portray Sharif as the most corrupt person, and his government was also held responsible for all the woes of the country.

Sharif was ousted and Khan won the 2018 general election with the help of the establishment in the name of eradicating corruption from the country. However, since accusing Sharif and his party of corruption was only eyewash to distract the public and to bring in a hybrid regime, ridding the country of graft was never the real concern of the establishment or Imran Khan.

The recent Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International provides evidence in this regard. According to the report, Pakistan has lost four spots in the CPI and now ranks 124 out of 180 countries around the globe. Last year Pakistan was ranked at 120 by the CPI, while during Sharif’s regime it was ranked 117th.

This report did not come as a surprise to those journalists who refused to become part of the malicious agenda to undermine democracy and genuine political leadership in the country. However, for the government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, it has brought embarrassment, as PTI’s public stance has always been that it is the most honest political party of the country.

This is the reason that the PR wizards of the PTI are trying to spin this CPI in favor of the party and are shamelessly blaming the previous government for the rise in corruption in their own era of governance.

It has been the standard practice of PTI that it takes no responsibility for its actions and accuses the previous government of having caused all the country’s problems. There is a long list of failures of PTI but on every occasion, it has held Sharif and his party responsible, as if he were still ruling the country.

The “corruption” and “accountability” slogans are the main tools of the establishment and its puppets, which are often used to discredit popularly elected leaders who refuse to take dictation from the military elite.

So now after failing to deliver in the governance domain, PTI has also failed to eradicate corruption. In fact, the worst part is that the country, whose gross domestic product grew during Sharif’s tenure, is now experiencing negative growth, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted its growth at a mere 1% for the year 2021. This makes Pakistan the worst-performing economy of the region.

However, the establishment and PTI still have the audacity to claim that Sharif is the cause of all woes. There are blind supporters of PTI who can believe whatever Imran Khan says and a brainwashed segment who think the establishment is above any accountability, but the fact remains that today the country is facing economic and political turmoil due to the misadventures of the establishment.

If Sharif was truly corrupt and was the cause of all the country’s woes, it would have only taken a free and fair election to get rid of him. However, that never happened, as the establishment knew it had always been Sharif who came to the rescue of the economy.

Every time he won election he brought the economy back on track, through infrastructure development, attracting investment from friendly countries, and securing loans at a lower markup compared with other governments.

In any case, only the cult following of the establishment and PTI could have believed that turncoats politicians and a party winning an election on the shoulders of the establishment could end corruption. No neutral journalist ever believed it. For his part, Imran Khan with his disastrous performance and his inability to rise above the level of self-worship made sure that he would leave no stone unturned to prove his critics right.

So now the country is 124th in the CPI while it is almost equal to Nigeria in terms of GDP growth. On the other hand, countries like Afghanistan have improved their ratings in the CPI, and India, despite being hit badly by Covid-19, is projected to have GDP growth of 11% in 2021.

Pakistan’s surrender on the Jammu and Kashmir issue and its isolation on the foreign-policy front are the achievements of this hybrid regime. Yet “corrupt” Sharif was able to engage the global powers and was respected widely in neighboring countries, including India, so much so that Narendra Modi himself paid him a visit.

The economy was on track and inflation was under control. However, Sharif was growing tall in stature as his performance in the governance domain was way above any of his political rivals, and it was a threat to the hegemony of the establishment.

Sharif was trusted by New Delhi, Istanbul and many Arab countries and he won the sympathies of Beijing. This was unacceptable for the establishment, who had ruled the country since the era of General Ayub Khan, so a king’s party was launched and Imran Khan was made the new puppet of the establishment.

From ousting Sharif through controversial judicial decisions to rigging the political discourse, it was always going to be a story of self-inflicted wounds, but no one in the powerful quarters gave it a second thought. As a result, an irreparable loss has been suffered by the economy and political discourse of the country.

In the process of defeating Sharif and in a bid to oust him from politics, the invisible forces only inflicted wound after wound on the economy and on democracy. Khan, who in reality was never capable of winning even two dozen National Assembly seats on his own, remains a prime minister who seems to have no clue about either domestic governance or foreign policy.

He also in the meantime has increased the polarization in the country through his politics based on personal hatred and grudges against his political opponents. This perhaps is his biggest crime, as he has helped the invisible forces define differences of opinion and criticism as personal enmity.

The famous German poet and philosopher Friedrich Nietzche said, “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

Those who understand the nature of power politics know that it will not take long for Imran Khan to be at the receiving end when he will sit in the opposition, and at that time journalists like us will be highlighting his case. However, the question remains, who will hold the bigwigs of the establishment responsible for this misadventure of bringing a hybrid regime at the expense of country’s economy and political discourse?

There is always the first time for everything, and even though the establishment has never been held accountable in the past, those bigwigs who played a part in rigging the political discourse should be brought to justice.

Until this happens this directionless journey and process of self-inflicted wounds will continue. For now, from Malaysia seizing an aircraft from Pakistan International Airlines to the Broadsheet embarrassment, and from failures to control inflation to becoming even more corrupt the country has become a laughing stock around the globe.

The invisible forces and Imran Khan are reaping what they sowed during the last seven years, while the country is witnessing an era even worse than during the regimes of Ayub Khan and Pervez Musharraf in terms of governance, foreign policy, and human-rights and press-freedom issues.

The only good thing about this painful experience is that it is a defeat to all those who thought that this country could continue to be run through puppets by pulling their strings from behind and that they could throw genuine leaders out of politics at will with the help of propaganda campaigns.

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.