It was not without reasons that the Imran Khan government was described as a hybrid regime by most of the left-oriented political commentators. They say Khan’s government was in fact a hybrid regime with authoritarian tendencies and was characterized by the sharing of power with the military generals and spymasters.
Further, they hold, the dominance of the military and its affiliated intelligence services was more dominant than in the realm of free speech — conventional media was tightly controlled, draconian laws were instituted and journalists were prosecuted and harassed.
However, one tends to disagree with this mode of thinking on two counts: Firstly, Imran Khan was not the architect of this political situation. He was the creature of the forces that created this situation. Secondly, those who are predicting the end of the hybrid regime with the ouster of Imran Khan are dead wrong. We will witness the new avatar of a hybrid regime in the days to come. Authoritarian tendencies are not going anywhere. Freedom of speech will remain in the clutches of the state machinery.
Ever since the uprising of the Arab Spring, Pakistani state machinery has lived in the fear of the media. This fear is not without basis. In many parts of the country, we have witnessed mob violence as a result of mobilisation through the social media trends. Viral videos and hate speeches on the social media incited the killing of Sri Lankan engineer in Sialkot.
The state institutions are giving importance to similar trends in the social media that go against their sensibilities. They are labeling them as conspiracies against the state institutions.
Electronic and print media are easy to manipulate because they depend on financial subsidies offered by the state. It is not surprising that during the over three years of the Khan government, the conventional media did not create trouble for the state institutions. But, the same cannot be said about the social media.
We will witness the new avatar of a hybrid regime in the days to come. Authoritarian tendencies are not going anywhere. Freedom of speech will remain in the clutches of the state machinery.
The sinister and dubious social media campaigns impacted public opinion. The military establishment’s reaction to the social media trend on their “neutrality” by the PTI supporters is a case in point.
Imran Khan may be gone but the situation that gave rise to curbs on free speech will persist in the country. People who think the new government will introduce a new age of free speech are sadly mistaken. Imran Khan was the first avatar of the hybrid regime. But the hybrid regime is the product of decades of civilian ineptitude that allowed the military establishment to take charge of policy-making in the country.
A wave of suicide bombings swept through Pakistan soon after the restoration of the parliamentary democracy under the leadership of former President Asif Ali Zardari in 2008. This opened space for the military leadership to assert itself in the policy-making processes. The PPP cabinet entrusted the then COAS with power to negotiate with the militants. The PPP, and subsequently the PML-N, could not resist the mounting pressure from the military to control the policy-making in the country. Imran Khan, a popular political leader, however, tried to break the unstated consensus to keep the military away from politics.
The civil-military experts think that at the roots of the hybrid regime in Pakistan is the international legitimacy accorded to the military leadership in internal and regional security affairs. This international legitimacy, including Washington, Beijing, Moscow and others, strengthens the position of the military leadership in politics of Pakistan.
So, the military has a fully mobilized constituency in the country. The ouster of Imran Khan will not change the hard realities on ground. The dominance of the military will continue. The pliant attitude of the politicians towards the military will continue.
Welcome to the second avatar of the hybrid regime.