Bertrand Russell wrote in his 1938 work Power: A New Social Analysis, “Power is naked when its subjects respect it solely because it is power, and not for any other reason. Thus a form of power that has been traditional becomes naked as soon as the tradition ceases to be accepted. It follows that periods of free thought and vigorous criticism tend to develop into periods of naked power.”
That is true in today’s Pakistan, where the deep state is being criticized in every nook and corner of the country for the failures of the government led by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. The military establishment is believed to have brought the Imran Khan-led PTI to power, and this has been a journey of continuous failures and disappointments.
From making a mess of the economy to misgovernance and from using national institutions to settle petty political scores to completely mismanaging the spread of Covid-19, the PTI government has failed on every front.
In the middle of the deadly third wave of the pandemic, the government is unable even to provide vaccines at an affordable price to the masses, thus further widening the gap between haves and have-nots. The terms and conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are increasing inflation and the burden of taxes and higher utility bills for the masses.
Not to forget that because of the pandemic and deteriorating economic situation, the surrender of Jammu and Kashmir has been forgotten. Parliament is undermined, as instead of getting bills passed by the legislators, the PTI-led government is getting them passed with presidential ordinances.
There is hardly even a single domain where the current government has not shown its inability to address important issues or to improve its performance. Even in these testing times when the country is in the middle of a pandemic and the economy is going through a great recession, the current hybrid regime is busy trying to make sure that it is present in the mainstream and digital media to try to save its reputation through propaganda.
The problem remains, however, that propaganda about “accountability” and the imaginary tales of the corruption of previous governments is not enough to fill the people’s empty stomachs or to make the economy better.
Never has such an inept government been brought in by the establishment. This perhaps shows how desperate the invisible forces were to sideline Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). So what is happening now is huge criticism, not only of the government but also of its backers in the military elite.
Perhaps this is the reason that many in the establishment are not happy with the Khan-led PTI government in the center and in the province of Punjab.
Punjab, being the largest province, holds the most National Assembly seats and thus holds the key to the forming of any government. Interestingly, Punjab is also the political fortress of Sharif, and the PTI’s miserable performance in the province as well as in Islamabad has given him a sniff of victory.
This was the reason that many PML-N legislators never defected from the party, as a government with no clue of governance was never a choice for those who have to get votes from their respective constituencies. This was the reason that the Pakistan Peoples Party led by Asif Ali Zardari was given the task by the invisible quarters to topple the PTI government in Punjab first.
One wonders what made the establishment or even the PPP think that Sharif, the most senior successful politician of the country, will accept that the PTI government in Punjab should be sent packing and that he will allow Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi of the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) to become the chief minister of the province and will accept the next puppet prime minister in the center.
It was never possible that a shrewd political leader like Sharif would fall for a piece of cake at a time when he has successfully saved his political legacy and when it is becoming obvious that his PML-N is the government in waiting if the next election is held freely and fairly.
The establishment that supported the PTI government has gradually distanced itself from the “accountability” witch-hunt. This is the first sign of its retreat on the power chessboard, as those who brought PTI to power can feel the heat as their public perception is getting weaker with every passing moment.
Many believe that the establishment does not care about public perception, but the fact of the matter is every direct and indirect military dictator who failed to pay heed to public opinion eventually paid the price, as public pressure played an instrumental role in weakening their positions.
The J&K fiasco, the crippled economy, and a resilient Sharif, every single factor has played a crucial role in making things difficult for the backers of the current hybrid regime. Not to forget that the pandemic has worsened the financial conditions of the masses and the opposition parties have used this to their advantage.
Other recent events indicate that a regime shift is near. Beijing’s interest in Pakistan seems to have declined, as it’s not investing in the country as heavily as it once did in the Sharif era, and US President Joe Biden’s administration has not invited Imran Khan to the virtual world leaders’ summit on climate scheduled for April 22-23.
For the PPP and a few other political parties, a new election will not change anything, so they will be happy to keep the current system intact by just ousting Khan, but for Sharif, a new election would surely mean a fourth term in the Prime Minister’s Office. Even the likes of Fazal-ur-Rehman would prefer a new election to get a few more seats for his party and finally send Khan’s backers home.
So Sharif until the announcement of the fiscal budget for this year will not be interested in toppling Khan; in fact, the more time this incompetent hybrid regime spends in power, the stronger and more popular Sharif will become.
The budget under the conditions imposed by the IMF and in the middle of a Covid-19 third wave will only make it more difficult for the masses to survive, and this will only further damage the government and its backers.
It is simple and written on the wall that there is no going back for Sharif. He will benefit from either scenario; a new election will bring him immediately to power, while if Khan somehow completes his term in office, that will also ensure Sharif’s return to the premiership.
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.