An unexpected but much needed public debate has begun on the nature of the Establishment and its role — good, bad or ugly. It is time some straight facts drive this debate. Those who pretend they do not know are hypocrites who lack the courage to call a spade a spade. And when they speak about it between the lines, they only expose themselves as such. Let it first be said that the Establishment primarily comprises those who head or control the armed forces including Rangers, paramilitary forces, intelligence agencies as well as serving or retired bureaucrats. Some may join the Establishment for a specific time or purpose. Any other description will be fallacious. They are also called the ‘boys’ but they have the firepower to get what they want. They overthrew governments four times, took over power and left it in a shape much worse years later. They didn’t trust elected leaders with what they thought were critical national security issues, though some room was allowed for trial purposes. A decade back, having lost much face after the disastrous Musharraf era — when army men could not get out on roads in uniform — they decided not to interfere and tried to stay on the political sidelines. So the ugly role was transformed into a night watchman’s role, with reins handed over to elected leaders to run governments, guided by the boys in critical areas. Sadly the quality of the elected leadership and governance could not qualify to be inspirational and civilians could not fill the shoes. The leadership quality kept on deteriorating each time there was a change through the ballot. The boys kept watching, uneasy, concerned, persuading and plodding but not forcing their way. Eventually, the gigantic surge in terrorism and radicalism pushed them from the watchman’s role to that of a saviour, by default, as civilians entangled themselves in juicy profitable pursuits leaving the boys with a deadly enemy to fight on the streets and on the borders. The establishment’s role started to grow out of proportions as politicians shrunk in size. Then politicians almost surrendered and the time came when apex committees were formed with the boys and others sitting at the same table Their role automatically started to grow out of proportions as politicians shrunk in size. Then politicians almost surrendered and the time came when apex committees were formed at national and provincial levels, with the boys and others sitting at the same table discussing what was otherwise the job of the elected leaders. The establishment camel was allowed in the tent, not just its neck but full body and soul. Every matter that was challenging or needed honesty and commitment was handed over to the boys. Examples are numerous but the latest in Sindh was seen last Wednesday when issues of street crime, ghost employees, land grabbing, cyber crimes, shifting prisoners, trial courts, illegal immigrants etc were passed on to the boys. These were besides terrorism, financial crimes, floods, earthquakes, CPEC, and census. At the national level, all this was going on incrementally, month-by-month, year-by-year and everyone, and their aunts, were happy because the elected leaders were making hay while their sun was shining and the hypocrites who are now shedding crocodile tears were also enjoying the loot sale. Why did they not urge the democrats to deliver then? The boys were serious and, thus, stamped their seal on whatever task they were given or project they undertook. A visible period of peace was felt and acknowledged by all, streets became quieter, blasts vanished, thousands were arrested or eliminated. By default and by their failure to govern, the elected leaders accepted the boys’ dominance. Not one party protested when MQM’s criminal mafia in London/Karachi was ousted and shoved out of politics altogether, obviously breaking up its remains into clueless factions, without a leader. Where were the democrats to stop this “carnage of democracy”, if that’s what they want to call it. In this milieu the latest PSP-MQM episode happened as the boys pushed the two factions closer, a comparatively minor job. This fact was accepted in a rare Rangers admission but the explanation was that it was done for pragmatic reasons only to ensure that the infighting did not lead to Karachi streets getting bloody, once again. It may have been for any number of reasons (accident, exuberance, excitement, inexperience) that Mustafa Kamal blurted out facts which most of us already knew but would not say in our personal, political, business or other vested interest. But once the cat was out of the bag, shrieking reactions went all the way to outlandish hypocritical depths or totally unjustifiable conclusions as they came from supposedly saner forums. In its recent editorial Daily Dawn took the following position, “The episode is only one of several in recent days that suggest political engineering of the electoral landscape is once again being taken up in earnest. Put bluntly, it amounts to a form of pre-poll rigging to manipulate and undermine the democratic process… . The upshot for democracy in the country is surely bleak… . Unhappily, not only does it appear that anti-democratic elements in the state believe that meddling in the democratic process is necessary, but that sections of the political class, too, are welcoming this interference with enthusiasm.” The newspaper thinks democracy is under threat now with this MQM mouse caught under the table, but no one lost sleep or bothered when the elephant in the room was ignored and the democrats were too happy to sleep with the villains. Those agitated now did not say a word about what Nawaz Sharif and his family has done to the country over the years, or what he has been indicted, sentenced and convicted on. If this is the style and essence of democracy they want, it is a pitiable plight. The alternative is to perform, honestly, in the interest of democracy and the people and stay away from loot and plunder. If the democrats cannot do that, the boys will walk all over them, as they are doing already. The writer is a senior journalist Published in Daily Times, November 17th 2017.