The recent shenanigans of intelligence agencies, selective accountability, coercion of politicians to change loyalties and speedy trials of other have once again brought the question to the fore: how does the system work in Pakistan and where does the actual power lie? It has also drawn our attention to the role civilian governments have in the system.Pakistan is a praetorian democracy in which military dominates and guides the basic rules of the game while civilian governments have very little say over the important policies of the state like defence, foreign, and internal security. Civilians are allowed to form governments only to provide legitimacy to the permanent authoritarian rule of the establishment. In this scheme of things, civilian governments are the subservient partners of the establishment and follow most of their orders obediently while they are in government. They only raise voice against the excesses of the establishment when they fall out of favour with the establishment.‘Vote ko izzat do’ slogan was raised by Nawaz Sharif, only when he was finally thrown out of the government, while in government he completely capitulated to the demands of the establishment. The capitulation of Nawaz Sharif to the establishment is in line with what the civilian governments have been doing since 1988. They accept most of the demands of the establishment even at the stake of their own popularity to stay in governments. The capitulation of Nawaz Sharif to the establishment is in line with what the civilian governments have been doing since 1988. They accept most of the demands of the establishment to stay in powerAlthough the establishment ruled the country from 1958 to 1971 too, the actual foundations of the present system, prevalent in our country, were laid down during the 11 years of Zia’s tenure.The overthrow of the Ayub’s government by a popular uprising of masses and the unexpected victory of the PPP and Awami League in the elections of 1971 forced the top brass to change its tactics and alter the dynamics of the system. The intention was to eliminate any threat to their organisational power and ensure that civilian players abide by certain rules not to pose a challenge to the political power of the establishment. The establishment did two things in Zia’s era;(a) restructure the state, society and politics;(b) control and build the narrative.Ayub Khan failed to understand that an authoritarian regime can only work in fractured societies. So, under Zia’s rule, society was fractured along ethnic, sectarian, religious and linguistic lines. State patronised the rise of MQM in Sindh and extremist sectarian organisations in Punjab. Minds of people were spewed with divisive venom to such an extent that hitherto peaceful people started to slit throats of their neighbours and fellows in the name of sect, language and ethnicity. Hundreds of thousands of people got killed in such inhumane incidents while state kept on patronising all such groups.The use of proxies to achieve its local and foreign political objectives was another act of Zia’s regime. Today, proxies are used from Balochistan to Fata to achieve many of the political and strategic objectives of the establishment. The experience of the last ten years shows that any civilian government can be brought down to its knees within days by the effective use of proxies. Despite huge international pressure, proxies are not only allowed to flourish, but they operate freely and strengthen their networks which have huge followings.Politics of the 1970s was based on ideologies of right and left, and despite all the efforts of religious right to exploit the religious sentiments of people, left-wing politics represented by PPP was the dominant political force in Pakistan. To break the ideology-based politics, Zia introduced the politics of patronage, which is the mother of all corruption. Although patronage politics was there since 1947 in different forms its circle was limited to the privileged classes, but Zia gave its new heights by involving the middle classes in it. He further strengthened it by first holding non-party based local council elections and then general elections on a non-party basis in 1985.Politics of the 1970s were based on ideologies of right and left, and despite all the efforts of religious right to exploit the religious sentiments of people, left-wing politics represented by PPP was the dominant political force in Pakistan. To break the ideology-based politics, Zia introduced the politics of patronage, which is the mother of all corruptionBiggest tactic Zia employed in re-engineering the society was building and controlling the narrative. The narrative was built through the curriculum, TV shows, films, fiction and effective and selective use of news in print and electronic media. Utter Indian hatred, politicians are corrupt, the army is infallible, civilians are incompetent, puritanical Islam, Israel and west are conspiring against us, and hell-bent on destroying us are the main tenets of the narrative built by the establishment then which continue with full force till day.The actual source of the establishment’s power does not lie in its organisational strength but in its ability to control and build the narrative. And as the establishment controls the minds of the people, it is very easy to manipulate them politically.In essence, political leadership is a subservient partner to the establishment whom military establishment allows forming a government as a price for the legitimacy, which civilian governments provide to the permanent rule of the unelected military oligarchy.The unfortunate part of this entire saga is that no political party or civilian government ever seriously tried to alter the course on which country was put during Zia’s tenure. No effort was shown to provide a counter-narrative to the one built by the establishment, and no attempt was made to reverse the extremely disastrous social and political engineering introduced during Zia’s regime. Unless the fundamentals of the system are not altered, the humiliation would be the permanent fate of civilian leadership.So, at present, there is no space left for any meaningful reforms within the system. For any betterment in the lives of people and the direction which our country takes, fundamental dynamics of the system have to be altered seriously but for that a new political consciousness is to be developed among the people, a new political movement is needed and a new political party and leadership to take that movement to its logical end.The writer is a graduate in economics and a freelance researcher and tweets @aatifnazarPublished in Daily Times, July 24th 2018.