It isn’t a coincidence that Imran Khan has woken up a year after the elections to contest their wholesale legitimacy and demand the ouster of the Nawaz Sharif government while Tahir ul Qadri has simultaneously leapt out of far-away Canada to demand nothing less than a “revolution” to change the political system. Nor is it pure political opportunism that has compelled Imran Khan to constantly change the goal posts of his “azadi march” from a recount of votes in four Lahore constituencies, to the resignations of the four provincial election commissioners, to a reconstitution of the Election Commission and a reframing of electoral laws, to the establishment of a Supreme Court body for investigation into charges of electoral fraud and legitimacy, ending up with nothing less than regime change as a prelude to all of the above.
Both Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri have demonstrated links with the military establishment, or “Miltablishment”, dating back to the Musharraf-Pasha era. This powerful military establishment is now separate from and distinct from the defunct notion of the “Establishment” which denoted the military-bureaucratic steel-frame that once ruled Pakistan before the politicians corrupted and politicized the civil bureaucracy and co-opted it on their side. This agenda has been facilitated by the Chaudhries of Gujrat and Sheikh Rashid of Lal Haveli who are self-avowed proxies of the “Miltablishment”.
The “Miltablishment’s” aggressive but indirect interventionism in the political system stems from the potential tilting of power from the military to the civilians as electoral democracy has taken root internally and the external prop of the military in the form of the United States has withdrawn from the region. It first flexed its muscle during the Kayani era when the PPP government was straightjacketed and compelled to concede on all issues of “national security” as exclusively defined by GHQ-ISI. Now it has moved decisively to cut Nawaz Sharif to size after his decision to seize control of, and redefine, “national security” policy, especially as relates to regional foreign policy and ant-terrorism strategy. Mr Sharif’s decision to try ex-army chief Musharraf for treason has raised the hackles of the Miltablishment and compelled it to strike back.
This is to say that the Miltablishment’s preferred strategy now is to remain in control of the commanding heights of “national security” by making new allies in the media and even judiciary, both of which now claim “independent” status as organs of the state, to compensate for the abdication of the civil bureaucracy and loss of power to the representatives of the electorate.
This helps to explain not just the current movement for “azadi” or “revolution” by the political allies and proxies of the Miltablishment but also the critical role of the “new media” from the corporate sector in sustaining this development (The Jang/Geo Group is getting the stick because it belongs to the old media which is hamstrung by notions of “journalistic” independence.)
More significantly, it helps to explain how the Miltablishment intends to steer the ongoing political turmoil to its advantage in the next few weeks. A Zia-ist coup is not on the table. Equally, a Kakarist shove can be ruled out because the Nawaz Sharif of 2014 is temperamentally poles apart from the Nawaz Sharif of 1993. This leaves the Kayani option on the table. If Nawaz Sharif, Iftikhar Chaudhry and the old media were key allies in the game to make Zardari politically impotent, then Imran Khan, Tahir ul Qadri and the new media are allies today in the game to cut Sharif down to size. This is to say that the dogs of war will be called off from besieging Islamabad after Sharif concedes the demand to investigate the elections of 2013 via the Supreme Court, reconstitutes the Election Commission with the approval of the chief protagonists immediately, lets Musharraf off the hook, backtracks on his regional foreign policy initiatives and commits to dissolving parliament and holding fresh elections if the SC so directs on the basis of its findings.
Needless to say, however, the best-laid plans can go awry when these are subject to unpredictable mass crowd behavior. Any deviation from the script by Imran Khan and/or Tahir ul Qadri in the heat of the moment can have unintended consequences no less than the premeditated provocation of terrorists. Certainly, after a series of miscalculations – starting with the Model Town incident and the stop-go measures to close and open the routes for the long marchers and the stubborn refusal to open negotiations with Imran Khan on his core issues some months ago – the Sharifs cannot afford to ride on their high horses any more. They have lost their foothold and standing and will be totally dependent on the goodwill and support of the Miltablishment to complete their term. Those who have pulled out the demagogues of today and also reigned them in can all too easily pull them out again, should the need arise, for a more decisive round in the future.