The tone was set by none other than the man who could have done it and whose words all would take seriously. He did it in time. The message was given and received by all those who needed it. Pundits are now linking whatever has been happening, and whatever may happen in future, to what was said, or not said, by the country’s army chief in a rare media interaction, as reported by this newspaper. Since the rules were defined for the meeting of General Qamar Javed Bajwa and top media persons, not much was directly reported, neither confirmed nor denied, barring a couple of exceptions, and no editorial comments or TV analyses were made. It probably was a session to explain, on deep background basis, the position of the establishment on burning national issues. It came about after criticism and innuendoes started hurting. Gen Bajwa’s earlier interactions with Parliament in closed-door sessions were either not understood or ignored. But critics are saying, albeit in muted tones that actions are speaking louder than words. These critics, mainly some sections of the media, some defeated or disgruntled politicians, some self-styled pro-democracy activists, attribute the changing face of politics and resurgence of national institutions and constitutional pillars of the state as blatant interference and over-stepping of boundaries. Nawaz was allowed space to keep maligning but the process against him did not slow down or stop These circles know and realise but may not admit or say so, as they are not naïve, that a huge vacuum had been created by mis-governance and bad governance of elected people and the country was sinking so fast on so many fronts that someone had to intervene, overtly or covertly. It was then that the new military doctrine was enunciated, and decisions were taken to start action on its main planks. It is obvious that before the July 2017 decision of the Supreme Court against Nawaz Sharif, there was a pervasive aura bordering reality that no one could take on the deeply entrenched political families of Punjab, that smaller provinces and non-Punjabi politicians were lesser citizens and laws would always fall short of holding the untouchables, including generals, accountable. All of that started changing in July last year. Nawaz Sharif & Co. could not believe it was happening, they thought it may have been a mistake and Nawaz quickly tried using his connections and public pressure to undo it. Many said the judges would not be able to stand firm, that generals were divided and will assert to protect the Sharifs. There were as many stories as anyone could count. But few realised that the new military doctrine had been carefully crafted well before things started rolling out in public. All right messages were sent to the right posts and key pillars were strengthened. Weaker backbones were provided the vitamins they needed. It was determined that the State would show a lot of tolerance and resilience, even solid punches would be absorbed but the path that had been chosen would be followed, undistracted. Few could guess what the army chief has explained now: “The institution has evolved and is much more sensitive to the criticality of a democratic order which we will vociferously defend.” This observation can now be juxtaposed with the reported words of the army chief and the context will become clearer. “The path to salvation lies in protecting and preserving the integrity of all state institutions (Parliament, judiciary and military) as much as in upholding the rule of law (read: accountability) on the way to free and fair elections — come what may,” this newspaper quoted him saying, adding: “Indiscriminate application of laws — anchored in the Constitution — is absolutely essential if Pakistan has to extricate itself from the vicious cycle of mis-governance and selective application of laws; the rot must stop if we want to see Pakistan survive and prosper as a self-respecting nation; subversion of the judiciary or its rulings will not be allowed; the country will descend into chaos if we let the Supreme Court be humiliated by those who don’t like its decisions; national security far outweighs individuals’ interests; everybody shall have to perform his/her function with honesty and integrity.” The nation then saw a speedy resurgence of institutions like NAB, security agencies, Rangers, police, courts, sections of the media, doing what they could not do earlier, standing up to authority, reassessing their strength, correcting their path, acting across the board and standing firm. Despite a growing campaign called a revolution by the Sharifs, their tirades against the institutions were tolerated, Nawaz was allowed space to keep maligning but the process against him did not slow down or stop. When Parliament was used illegally and immorally to protect him and keep him in power indirectly, the courts moved to do their job. When direct vicious attacks were made, they were ignored or subtly rebuffed in the media. When it was threatened that parliamentary numbers would be used to defang other state institutions, the stakeholders and players were properly informed and reminded their duty to thwart the planned subversion. While Senate elections were not put off, the sense seemingly conveyed to the players prevailed, bringing startling results and throwing up unexpected alliances. The threats being hurled to the system were defused. What could be more explicit when Gen Bajwa said, “Political leaders like Altaf Hussain are history. All MQM followers should realise that ‘Altaf, violence and extortion’ are not acceptable at all. Everybody is free to indulge in politics, but not at the cost of the constitution and the law of Pakistan.” He used the words ‘political leaders’ in plural, giving the example of Altaf Hussain. That is how the Bajwa Doctrine has worked so far. It is clear, non-violent, invisible but effective. That is why the initial media comments on the Senate coup have been largely muted. Only Dawn directly blamed what it called ‘anti-democratic forces’ when it wrote, “What is clear, however, is that the Senate election has opened the door to fierce and otherwise implausible political alliance-building, encouraged by anti-democratic forces in the shadows.” Daily Nation said, “While it may certainly be shocking, the election is certainly not a ‘derailment of democracy’.” The News played softball, “The previously unthinkable has now become realistic and all bets are off about the direction our politics will take in the crucial coming months.” The hard ground fact is that all cards are now on the table and what can and cannot be done is clear. Play ball fairly, keep playing, is the motto. The writer is a senior journalist Published in Daily Times, March 16th 2018.