This is a moment of deep crisis for the Pakistani establishment. Its troubles began with Nawaz Sharif’s unexpected decision to protest his disqualification by holding rallies along the GT Road as he travelled from Islamabad to his home base in Lahore. The outpouring of massive crowds in his support turned him into the most popular leader of the country almost overnight. Since then, the powers-that-be have been struggling to preserve their control over the socio-political order of the country. They understand that their strength comes not from the barrel of the gun, but from a perception among the citizens that the true power lies with it instead of the elected government. Any threat to this perception is aggressively countered using influence in the media, the judiciary, and the opposition political parties. These tactics were perfected under General Kayani when the Zardari government was successfully weakened through judicial activism backed by extensive media coverage and agitation by opposition parties, including the PMLN. Meanwhile, the establishment enjoyed absolute control over the country’s policy matters behind the scenes without taking the blame for direct intervention. The same formula was successfully used under General Raheel Sharif to keep the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ambitions in check. Although Nawaz Sharif withdrew his claim over security and international issues early in his tenure, he refused to extend Raheel Shareef’s stint as the Chief of Army Staff despite considerable efforts from the establishment including sit-ins by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri. Furthermore, Nawaz snubbed Raheel Sharif’s recommendation for his replacement and chose General Qamar Javed Bajwa as the Chief instead of General Nadeem Ashfaque. Soon the then Prime Minister started sitting in commanding positions during his meetings with General Bajwa, which dented the establishment’s boastful image in the public. The powers-that-be understand that their strength comes from a perception among the citizens that the true power lies with them. Any threat to this perception is aggressively countered using influence in the media, the judiciary, and the opposition political parties These events coupled with the imminent win for Nawaz Sharif in the 2018 elections should have sounded the alarm for the establishment. Setting a precedent to refuse extensions for army chiefs would put prime ministers in the privileged position to select new chiefs every three years, encouraging junior three-star generals to seek favour from the Prime Minister to move up the ranks. Once regular election cycle becomes the accepted norm, a gradual reduction in the establishment’s control over the society is only inevitable. In reaction to this looming threat, the powers-that-be had to act quickly before the 2018 elections are called by banking on their tested formula of ousting the prime minister using the judiciary, opening floodgates of media-led denunciation of the ruling party, and encouraging the opposition parties to pounce on the opportunity to cripple the government. However, strategies developed to keep elected governments on their toes were hastily applied to pull the rug under the Nawaz government, and the move backfired. Far from embarrassing Nawaz Sharif, the ouster has allowed him to amass public sympathy for being disqualified over frivolous charges. His rallies have turned into a populist movement and further strengthened his control over the party as mid-tier leadership realised that the voting masses stand with Nawaz. The anti-establishment Maryam Nawaz has emerged as a capable leader and improved her profile within the party. She proved her mettle in the NA-120 by-election, securing a win for her mother Kulsoom Nawaz amid ecstatic displays of popular support during the campaign. The establishment had probably wished someone like Chaudhary Nisar or Shahbaz Sharif to replace Nawaz as the prime minister. Instead, Nawaz Sharif appointed his loyalist Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for the top slot. Although General Bajwa now gets to sit next to the Prime Minister in televised meetings, Abbasi echoes the need for putting the house in order. Such talk frustrates the establishment as it is not yet ready to forego its assets in the militant Islamist organisations. The newly appointed Foreign Minster Khawaja Asif has emerged as an articulate defender of Pakistan’s foreign policy in a very short time, which not only dispels propaganda about the incompetence of elected leaders, but also allows the government to reclaim the foreign policy domain. Ahsan Iqbal, the new Minister for Interior, created history last week by challenging the insubordination of Rangers as it occupied the court premises where Nawaz Sharif was appearing before an accountability judge. Not only did Ahsan Iqbal made his objection public, he promised to hold an inquiry into the matter. This does not bode well for the powers-that-be as this is clearly a move by the minister to take some control over the country’s national security issues. The former should be getting nostalgic about simpler times when only a few months back there was no foreign minister to speak on international affairs, and Chaudhary Nisar served as an ineffective Minister of Interior towing their policies. To add to the internal pressure, the international community is showing its displeasure toward Pakistan for harbouring designated terrorist groups such as the Haqqanis and Hafiz Saeed. All signs show that the US is serious this time and won’t allow the establishment to continue such policies without consequences. The establishment has used these groups since long to leverage its position in Afghanistan and India. It is also accustomed to use these groups to consolidate its position in local politics. In the recent NA-120 by-election, for example, extremist militant organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Tehreek Labbaik were allowed to contest elections to weaken the PMLN’s position. Such moves show that the powers-that-be are quickly running out of options to manage the fallouts of Nawaz Sharif’s ouster. The more they try to use the courts, the media, and the opposition parties; the more they expose themselves to the public and lose control over the country’s affairs. It remains to be seen whether this frustration will make way for desperate steps. The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Cleveland State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His twitter handle is @RamblingSufi Published in Daily Times, October 12th 2017.