Political history in Pakistan oscillates between the years of democratic rule and military dictatorship. Incidentally, in every decade of Pakistan’s existence in the last seventy one years, this back and forth of regimes has happened between the 7th and 9th year of the decade. For instance, the first inning of a democratic regime ended in 1958 when the duo of Iskandar Mirza and Ayub Khan abrogated the constitution and imposed Martial Law. Then around 1968, a decade after, agitation against Ayub Khan had become so forceful that he had to resign.
This tragic saga of instability continued in the following decades too, as ZA Bhutto regime was devoured by another Martial Law imposed by General Zia in 1977; Zia himself got killed in 1988 in an air crash, which led to another round of democratic regimes. This too could not last any longer than a decade, when in 1999 General Musharraf spearheaded a military coup and sent Nawaz Sharif’s elected government home. Musharraf too had to unceremoniously resign exactly a decade after in 2009, which again let a democratic regime in Pakistan. While we don’t know what’s in store now as the democratic regime is approaching the fateful year in 2018, the signs show — no matter how bitterly we may despise it — that the end of the democratic round is imminent once again.
Seen retrospectively, one may find some numerological connection too; however, as we see the situation today it is vividly noticeable that the deep state, meaning the military establishment supported by its accessories in the judiciary and right wing political parties, is weary of the idea of civilian supremacy in Pakistan. For instance, the current elected government justifiably wanted to have better relations with Pakistan’s neighbours in the east and the west; it also wanted to try the ex-military dictator Musharraf for treason because he abrogated the constitution twice. The reaction was an orchestrated sit-in through PTI and PAT demagogues which had almost toppled the government in 2014.
All the judicial overreach and activism, which otherwise isn’t worth getting fugitive policemen like Rao Anwar to submit before the court or bring back missing activists, is just a smokescreen to wind up the democratic system, a curtain-raiser for another dictatorial regime
In 2016 India launched a campaign to diplomatically isolate Pakistan in the wake of terrorist attacks on its military bases in Pathankot and Uri, alleging that Pakistan had a hand in these incidents. To counter the Indian diplomatic onslaught, Pakistan sent delegations of parliamentarians and ambassadors to the powerful capitals of the world. However, when in a national security meeting, chaired by the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the foreign secretary briefed the military and civilian participants on the fact that Pakistan is losing on the diplomatic front to India and that if we didn’t act against Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and their outfits as well as the Haqqani network, Pakistan was heading for not only diplomatic isolation — but also sanctions, the kind we may face this summer.
Reportedly, this led to heated arguments over how the Punjab government’s actions against these terrorist groups were scuttled by military’s intelligence apparatus. When this altercation in the meeting was reported in daily Dawn, all hell broke. The military media wing, the ISPR and its allies in media termed appearance of Dawn’s story a national security breach. Instead of reflecting on why the world doesn’t believe our assurances and correcting our policies, for the next seven months the civilian government was pushed to the wall in the name of brittle national security. The whole point was to punish the civilian leadership for they dared to question military led national security paradigm which revolves around a zero-sum game.
The Panama offshore assets case was no less than a windfall for the deep state to achieve what it could not have through the 2014 sit-in or the Dawn Leaks of 2016: to remove Nawaz Sharif and break his party. That too only worked partially, because even though Nawaz was removed by the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the Panama case on the most flimsy of charges, which was not even contested by petitioners, yet his party stood behind him and his victimhood narrative attracted the masses around him. In a complete jittery over the success of Nawaz’s narrative, not only has he been disqualified from leading his party, but his party candidates for the Senate have also been forced to contest as independent candidates, again through Supreme Court.
The objective of course is to create fractures in his party, so that the PML-N, which looks geared to win the next general elections, is unable to secure a decisive majority at least in the Senate. For if PML-N has a majority in both houses — it will for sure bring required constitutional and policy reforms to introduce civilian supremacy, which the deep state is so repulsed by.
All the judicial overreach and activism, which otherwise isn’t worth getting fugitive policemen like Rao Anwar to submit before the court or bring back missing activists, are just a smokescreen to wind up the democratic system, a curtain-raiser for another dictatorial regime.
The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics of Pakistan. He’s accessible at Zulfirao@yahoo.com
Published in Daily Times, March 1st 2018.