While Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan concentrates on targeting his political foes, the economy gets worse and worse. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi

It is normal in Pakistan that the cost of the adventures of the political and military elites are paid by the common masses.

Two parallel universes exist in Pakistan. One is for the elite class that consists of political brass, landlords, civil and military bureaucracy and the big business families. The other consists of small businessmen, job holders and the poor.

Since independence, it has always been about the elites and their wars for the throne or to strengthen their vested interests. But the question in the year 2021 arises, how long will this continue?

The odds of course will be very different in the post-Covid world where economies are in recession due to the effects of the pandemic on global business and trade. A country led by an incompetent regime like that of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), backed by a military establishment that historically has only brought catastrophe to the country, and a toothless opposition, in these testing times stands no chance of progress – at least not for the common masses.

The current increase in the electricity tariffs for Pakistani citizens and mortgaging the parks and other national assets for loans are not the solution. If loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or friendly countries had been helpful, the previous civilian and military governments would not have failed to get the country out of economic crisis.

However, it is not only about economic crisis any more. The deteriorating social fabric that is only creating more and more division between the haves and have-nots and the lack of genuine political leadership are in fact more dangerous threats than the deteriorating economy.

But the inept PTI government is only interested in settling personal scores with the opposition, whereas the opposition is busy using the masses’ problems as a tool to exploit the bad governance and political and economic crises to its advantage.

The military establishment of course is the ultimate winner, as not only is it reaping the most benefits but politicians fighting with each other for a piece of the cake makes the establishment stronger.

The alliance of the opposition under the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) that was formed to send the establishment-backed PTI government packing and to bring back genuine democracy now is divided. The Pakistan Peoples Party, as predicted much earlier by this correspondent, never could have given up its provincial government in Sindh only for the sake of new elections. So the PPP is trying to persuade the PDM to go for an in-house change instead of demanding a new election.

After all, new elections would mean the return of Nawaz Sharif to power, as his popularity is perhaps the highest it ever has been. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman had no option but to put his weight behind Sharif in the hope that if Sharif wins, he will be rewarded a good piece of cake in the provinces of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Meanwhile Sharif has grabbed the opportunity to take on the establishment in the hope of regaining political space and has handled it perfectly, as according to a close aide, talks between Sharif’s party the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the powerful quarters are being held.

That is not surprising at all, as in power politics the doors for negotiations are always kept open, but the question remains, what about the sinking economy, the depleting social fabric and the lack of genuine democracy even among the cadres of the mainstream political parties? Why not initiate a debate among the stakeholders on how to move forward, and in front of the masses?

This formula of changing faces and ruling from behind the scenes will not work for the establishment, as the situation in the country is getting worse all the time. The rising inflation and the increase in electricity tariffs and petroleum-product prices every month to generate revenue is a rotten formula that will not work any more.

It is a dead end, where the political and military elites both have to sit down and reshape the political and social contracts if they really want to have a functioning country, and if not, and they carry on with meaningless wars for the throne, this will only speed the process of economic and social collapse.

There are millions of malnourished children, millions of jobless people, while ordinary workers have been watching the golf courses getting greener, the cantonment areas expanding further, the lavish living style of the political and military elite for all these years at the expense of their children’s future, and that too in the name of nationalism, religion, and defense against external threats.

Imagine a country where even the Chief of Army Staff having brunch with his family at a club results in a headline praising the general for standing in a queue to be served an omelet. At a time when Covid-19 and government’s inability to rule has almost broken the middle class and the IMF is dictating terms and conditions to extend more loans, the political and military elites both are enjoying their lives.

The opposition is holding behind-closed-doors talks with the establishment, and Prime Minister Imran Khan is busy trying to get the opposition leaders convicted in the name of “accountability” that has become nothing more than a farce now. Meanwhile life for the common masses is like those of roosters trapped in a coop.

There is a war for survival every day for the majority of the people, and this suits the political and military elite as a means to keep their control on their respective sections of the society.

Nothing has changed for the last 73 years, and it will not change unless the roosters (the masses) kept in the coop in the name of nationalism, religious doctrine and the sloganeering of democracy stop getting exploited by these propaganda tricks.

There is nothing patriotic about being robbed by the establishment in the name of security and nationalism. How come the generals are so rich while the ones who are paying taxes are left to fend for themselves? Why do political leaders’ fortunes always get bigger after the get into power, and why do the political parties keep awarding party-ticket nominations to contest elections to the land grabbers, and those with criminal records?

There is nothing holy about being exploited in the name of religion by the mullahs who are part of this rotten system and there is nothing democratic about getting deceived again and again by the same political parties in the name of accountability or democracy.

Pakistan needs a new social and political contract, and unless that happens, its survival and progress will be in doubt. For now, the common masses and the country itself are paying the cost of inept government, a spineless opposition, and the visionless establishment.

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.