Politics in Pakistan has long been the toughest of jobs. The graveyard in Ghari Khuda Baksh, where the family of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is buried, is a testimony that in a country where the deep state rules and enjoys a monopoly over state affairs, politicians are probably the most vulnerable and most criticized segment. State propaganda under the influence of the security establishment has made sure that not a single military dictator or top establishment official should be blamed for the country”s failure to progress on the economic front and for its global isolation on the diplomatic front.
However, things are gradually changing, and the defiance of ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz has produced a situation where the deep state cannot run state affairs through its puppet government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and giving space to Sharif spells the end of the game for the establishment.
Sharif is biding his time right now and remaining in jail. He has advised his lawyers to ask for time to prepare his case. The Islamabad High Court is hearing Sharif’s petition in the wake of the scandal over a video of the judge who convicted Sharif confessing that he had been pressured by the invisible forces to do so.
In the meantime, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and his close aide ex-prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi have also been sent to jail. Now Maryam is being sent to the same Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore where her father is imprisoned. Father and daughter now can communicate directly and can devise a strategy that will need no interpreter or messenger. This can be seen as either a blessing in disguise for Sharif or an old carrot-and-stick strategy of the establishment.
On the other hand, the establishment is bearing the brunt of the failures of Prime Minister Imran Khan and it wants to get out of this situation. Many analysts and observers think the establishment is “invincible,” but that is not the case.
Though mainstream media are controlled and dissident voices are not heard, still the common people do not put the blame of the failures on Imran Khan and his government, but actually blame the ‘selectors’ – the establishment – for bringing him to power
The cold response from the global community over the Kashmir issue has put the establishment in a very odd position, while at home the growing economic turmoil has made it almost impossible for the masses to survive. Though mainstream media are controlled and dissident voices are not heard, still the common people do not put the blame of the failures on Khan and his government, but actually blame the “selectors” – the establishment – for bringing him to power through an engineered political discourse.
In a country where every second journalist and intellectual is more then happy to be in the good books of establishment and believes in the “hail the king” mantra, and where the mighty establishment manufactures the consent of the masses through propaganda, it is nothing short of a miracle that democratic forces still exist and gradually have come to the position where they actually could checkmate the establishment.
The question, however, remains: Do the main political parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) want to change the system itself or are they only willing to change the current regime while protecting the status quo? As far as the PPP is concerned, it seems confused and remains reluctant to pose any major challenge to the hegemony of the establishment. Perhaps it does not want to add more graves to Ghari Khuda Baksh and is happy to remain limited to the Sindh interior only.
As for the PML-N, it is divided. The hawkish group led by Nawaz Sharif and his daughter wants to change the rules of the power game at any cost, while his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif wants to mend fences with the establishment. Shahbaz, like Asif Ali Zardari, is conducting traditional power politics where only the positions are changed and the status quo is maintained.
Nawaz Sharif has the upper hand, as he holds crucial video recordings that, once released, will reveal the names of many people who engineered the political process from behind the scenes, and cause even more embarrassment for the already weakened political discourse. Sharif, being a shrewd political leader, will definitely use these videos as a last resort if he fails to win this battle by other means.
It is Maryam who has turned the tables and out of nowhere earned Sharif a position where he can actually checkmate the establishment. Maryam’s initiative of bringing young blood into the party has been a winner, and her bond with the PML-N vote bank is unprecedented. Her defiance is an example for every politician that even when everything seems hopeless, one can outsmart the toughest of opponents. Maryam is being subjected to mental torture as the PTI government cannot rise above its personal vendettas, but that does not change the equation.
The establishment, on the other hand, first will need a scapegoat for the Kashmir fiasco, and Imran Khan will be the ideal choice to be sacrificed as a pawn in the game. However, it is irrelevant whether Khan is ousted or not, as merely changing the pawns will never tip the balance of power in favor of the democratic forces.
So Sharif will be well aware that his defiance and the indomitable will of Maryam, not traditional power politics, have kept him alive in the game. Meanwhile, sitting in darkened rooms, the shrewd men of the establishment will be thinking about the consequences of carrying on with this self-imposed political battle. If with all the power and resources at their disposal the establishment still cannot remove Sharif and his daughter from the political chessboard, then it is clear that it has lost the battle.
It is Sharif who has to decide whether he will be satisfied with getting a clean chit from the courts and getting fresh elections. Or will he keep in mind his past experiences of being thrown out of the power by the establishment for not taking dictation? Or will he keep in mind the fact that the way Maryam fought the battle valiantly against all the odds shows that she, like her father, is not dependent on the establishment or courts to remain relevant?
Throwing Imran Khan out of power with the help of a faction of the invisible forces will not fulfill the dream of democratic supremacy. At the same time, the establishment needs to realize that the age of imposing self-created doctrines is over. If with the media under control and the hundreds of think-tanks and intellectuals in its pocket it still cannot make its doctrine acceptable to the masses, then it needs to change its position and cease intervening in the political discourse of the country.