Imran Khan’s ouster as the prime minister of Pakistan is being termed a victory for democracy, as he was the civilian face of the ‘hybrid regime’ — a term proudly popularised by pro-establishment anchors themselves. The end of hybrid regime, analysts say, is good news for Pakistan because democratic norms, civil liberties and human rights were blatantly violated during the four years of PTI government. Moreover, PTI’s various failures on economic and diplomatic front were another reason why a significant segment of the citizenry had grown frustrated with the government.
But with Imran Khan gone, will the crisis in Pakistan come to an end? More importantly, does the end of the hybrid regime mean the establishment has learned its lesson and will not meddle in politics anymore? Is the apparent ‘neutrality’ of the establishment permanent?
Friday Times spoke to journalists, authors and academics who weighed in on Khan’s ouster from power and the future of civilian supremacy in Pakistan.
Activist Marvi Sirmed says the way the military establishment installed Imran Khan and consolidated his grip on power perpetuated the exploitation, control, and authoritarianism that has been present for decades — even before Khan.
Does the end of the hybrid regime mean the establishment has learned its lesson and will not meddle in politics anymore? Is the apparent ‘neutrality’ of the establishment permanent?
“The establishment has had firm control irrespective of the face in office. Khan made things worse because of his anti-democratic, authoritarian, fascist tendencies exacerbated manifold by his partnership with the military leadership,” she said.
Journalist and TFT editor Raza Rumi is of the opinion that the downfall of the hybrid order will not lead to a drastic change in Pakistan’s civil-military equation. “The military establishment has taken a backseat for now by letting the political parties and Supreme Court function independently. However, their influence and power remains a reality that will only change with deepening of democratisation and constitutionalism,” he said.
Marvi Sirmed agrees. “The failure of Imran Khan does not mean the failure of the hybrid regime. That’s not how the authoritarian establishment looks at it,” she says.
Marvi added that going by various interviews of retired army officials, on/off the record statements by the military spokesperson and chief of army staff himself, it is clear that hybrid regimes are there to stay.
“Any government that comes after negotiating with the establishment, will have to play on the pitch of the latter’s choosing. Pakistan’s democracy has been pushed to the 1990s once again. People have to jealously guard their freedoms, otherwise all civil liberties could be made the sacrificial goat at the altar of political expediency,” she told Friday Times.
Human rights violations during PTI govt
The brazen clampdown on dissent and political expression witnessed during the PTI rule is another stain on its record. Marvi says government and the establishment worked hand in glove to successfully crush political dissent. “They destroyed independent journalism, shrank civic space, and violated the freedom to associate, organise, express, and be informed. Significantly, the problem of enforced disappearances increased manifold under the hybrid regime,” she added.
Marvi thinks it is unlikely that Imran Khan will face any consequences for these crimes against democracy and the constitution of Pakistan.
Academic Daanish Mustafa says the housing society crisis worsened during the PTI government. “The housing society craze predates PTI government but under their rule it became a priority state policy with disastrous consequences for air quality, poor people’s access to the cities and peri-urban agriculture and ecology,” he said, adding that undoing this damage to ecology, health and livelihoods, especially of the poor takes decades if not generations.
Author Ahmad Faruqui says Imran Khan promised to create a ‘New Pakistan’ that would combine the best features of Scandinavian democracy, Chinese economic policy, and Islamic moral values. “It would be unlike any other nation on earth, so economically advanced that Arabs would come there to work. The press would be freer than the press in the UK. Parliament would freely debate opposing points of view. He and the army would be on the same page.”
He added that what Khan actually delivered was an economy that is in shambles, a press that is muzzled and threatened, a political atmosphere in which he constantly belittles the opposition and uses derogatory words for their leaders.