As curtains are drawn on the sordid saga of a hybrid regime, thrust upon the people of Pakistan supposedly by the Military Establishment through massive rigging, intrigues, change of loyalties, unleashing of religious extremists and selective accountability of elected representatives through the jdiciary and the accountability bureaus, no one is ready to take the responsibility of this massive blunder.
The architects of this “change” have conveniently distanced themselves from this horrifying experiment declaring themselves “neutral” and have left a megalomaniac to take full blame for the colossal mismanagement in the four years of his misrule.
Under the cover of “same page”, the nose-diving of the economy despite heavy borrowings, massive inflation, unemployment and bad governance were protected by the establishment. During this period, witch-hunt of rival political forces was launched at an unprecedented scale through the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and judiciary, freedom of conventional and social media was curbed and dissenting voices went “missing”.
Even judges like Qazi Faez Isa were not spared and a vicious campaign was launched against him. Rights movements in Balochistan and tribal areas were brutally crushed. The norms of parliamentary democracy, including legislation and engagement with the opposition parties, were totally neglected.
The anti-corruption narrative, which served as the backbone of Khan’s campaign against the previous PPP and PML-N governments, had proven to be a sham slogan, as politicians (the famous ATMs) financing Khan’s political career and personal expenses were victimized under a weak administration.
Corruption saw new heights under Khan’s regime. Pakistan dropped from 122nd to the 140th position on the most corrupt nations index of Transparency International.
The carefully self-crafted image of Khan being a “clean man” was tarnished by the mini and mega scandals hitting the country despite the establishment’s best attempts to hide them under the carpet by coercing journalists who exposed them. With the Khan’s government gone, massive corruption cases associated with him and his closest cronies are gradually coming to light.
Khan was daydreaming to rule till 2028 by ensuring a favourable change of command in the armed forces, suitable election reforms and crushing dissent among political rivals and civil society.
The direction-less regime was rapidly becoming unpopular due to inflation, unemployment, a record increase in poverty and a weak, ineffective and bankrupt administration. The PTI and its allies started losing elections. There was rapid deterioration in all indicators of economy, and it was obvious that it would hit bottom soon.
A realization generally started emerging among the architects of the hybrid regime that it was time to distance themselves from it, if they had to save their own skin and their institutional interests. They were being held responsible by the people of Pakistan for the failed experiment, and had to do something quickly to maintain their hegemony over the society without admitting their mistake.
The wind of Khan’s misfortune began to blow the day he had to reluctantly accept the transfer of the top spymaster, who micro managed his affairs. Before this change, Khan was daydreaming to rule till 2028 by ensuring a favourable change of command in the armed forces, suitable election reforms and crushing dissent among political rivals and civil society.
As soon as the crutches of the establishment were removed, the high on rhetoric and low on performance hybrid regime failed, and the opposition parties were quick to seize the moment.
The Khan regime was running through its worst days. The opposition should have left it to complete its term and let people elect a new government as per their wishes.
Though, the ouster of Khan’s hybrid regime through a no-confidence motion is perfectly constitutional and legal, it has given a new lease of life to Imran Khan, and helped him to play a victim. The haste on the part of establishment and political parties could be understood as a preemptive act to save Pakistan from some illegal and unconstitutional act, which could have been a huge catastrophe for democracy in a long time to come.
The PTI and depleting number of its allies feel betrayed, abandoned and are behaving like jilted lovers. Occasionally they direct their anger towards the establishment, but then stay short of antagonising it as a whole by focusing their rage towards one or two key figures. Khan is trying to manufacture a fictional story of the US intervention in his ouster by exploiting the nationalistic sentiments. He believes that he can manipulate public opinion by telling a big lie and continue repeating it like most populists and fascists do.
Given the long history of the establishment’s direct and indirect involvement in power politics throughout the history of Pakistan, the current phase of “neutrality” seems to be a tactical retreat.
Like a true populist, Khan is leading his support base of middle and upper middle classes — who are delirious in ecstasy by his cult — towards an abyss. He is credited with bringing this apolitical class, who are disappointed with the traditional ruling elites, but are ill-informed about history, politics and economy, in the political mainstream for the first time. They are not concerned with his somersaults and U-turns on practically everything he once promised them.
Since he cannot boast of any successes during four years of his rule, he has concocted a dangerous potion of naivety about an ideal state practicing the principles of Riasat-e-Madina, Chinese Socialism, Swedish Welfare State combined with mythical figures from Turkish medieval history.
He has brought an entire generation into the lowest possible depths of political discourse by indulging into crass abusive language, profanities, insults and sleaze. His closest team is full of people with no qualms for etiquettes. He is no different from other populists with fascistic tendencies, like Altaf Hussain and Khadim Rizvi, who are also credited with bringing in their own set of followers into the mainstream.
Given the long history of the establishment’s direct and indirect involvement in power politics throughout the history of Pakistan, the current phase of “neutrality” seems to be a tactical retreat. However, the clashes and conflicts in the upper echelons of ruling establishment have always given the civilians the rare opportunity to establish their civilian supremacy, however short lived it may be. The civilian governments of 1971-77, 1988-99, 2008-2018 have all emerged as a result of the establishment losing the grip on power as a result of external circumstances or inner rifts, which incapacitated their ability to rule directly.
The establishment is exposed before the people like never before. The mainstream political parties have already experienced them multiple times, and have no illusions about them. Now the PTI is the new entrant to this camp. Despite the fact that many political players are still vary of its machinations and fear antagonizing the establishment as they can’t imagine to come into power without their help, the bankruptcy of their political intrigues is exposed before everyone’s eyes.
It is a bitter truth that the distortions in the country’s economy, due to its heavy tilt toward being a security state instead of a welfare state, is beyond the control of any political administration. The dream of a progressive and economically thriving Pakistan will remain an elusive dream unless political parties realize the need to be united on one single point, which is to keep the establishment out of politics.