PML-N supporters protested in the National Assembly after the election of the Speaker on the 15th of this month. The protest was a continuation of the opposition’s accusations of pre-poll rigging by the “agencies’’ ostensibly to ensure Imran Khan’s electoral victory. The assumption is that the opposition has been denied a level playing field in the general elections, 2018. Pakistan’s electoral history is too complicated to take sides. One does wonder, however, if pre-poll manipulation is the exclusive right of the military establishment. Are the political bigwigs- including the military’s progeny and erstwhile supporters- immune to unfair interventions? It is an open secret how the waderas, sardars, industrialists and ‘holy men’ use coercion, bribes and patronage to get votes from their devotees. Similarly, development funds meant for the welfare of the public are used to grease the palms of local political reps who can then throw some crumbs to the voters during election campaigns to win votes for their paymasters. Both the PML-N and the PPP have never had any qualms in stuffing the police and the bureaucracy with their favourites to cover their transgressions and to eventually influence election results. Nor have they shied away from co-opting the media where possible. When was the last time these parties run by political dynasties actually held free and fair intra-party elections? Can these ‘’lovers of the poor’’ actually walk in the streets of Lyari or Narowal without holding their noses? Their ‘’saving the democracy’’ chant is devoid of substance. How many of them actually possess the acumen to manage the intricacies of democracy? Each society has its own cultural and historical peculiarities and evolves at its own pace. Western democracy is not a perfect, one-size-fits-all dispensation. It has its flaws and one such glaring ‘’ flaw’’ is currently occupying the White House. If the political trend of weakening dynastic politics and strengthening across the board accountability can break the vicious political cycle of mutual back-scratching, then regular general elections can indeed strengthen Pakistan’s democracy Why is it that the Constitution becomes important only when the powerful are in trouble? The Constitution gives rights to the people of Pakistan. How many times did the champions of democracy actually legislate to uplift the deprived in the last decade of civilian rule? Did they provide the people a level playing field? So if for once a non-dynastic PTI, headed by someone untainted by financial corruption, has won the election then it is promising. If the political trend of weakening dynastic politics and strengthening across the board accountability can break the vicious political cycle of mutual back-scratching, then regular general elections can indeed strengthen Pakistan’s democracy. Moreover, does Imran not deserve any credit? Is it not true that he has certain qualities that no military training school can impart to any politician? Has his message not resonated with the public? Is there anything comparable in the opposite camp to match his contributions as a philanthropist? That he has won outright majority in KP after his party’s five-year stint in the province, proves that despite shortcomings, it has not been just another sordid tale of political hypocrisy. Sure, Imran has his flaws but lining his own pockets at the expense of the downtrodden is not one of them. And in a country where nearly fifty percent of the population lives below or close to the poverty-line, it matters. That the military largely controls foreign and security policies cannot be denied; but did the military also stop the PPP and PML-N governments from introducing sorely needed domestic reforms and making sustainable policies? Take education, for instance. Today a large majority of our university students are running around like headless chickens. I lecture at different universities and am appalled at the colossal failure of the system in introducing a genuine research culture. There is a dearth of creative thinking and analytical skills and most of them are unable to speak or write logically. Of course, they love to discuss politics but can go no further than conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated social media conversations. They have never been taught to pursue excellence for its own sake. Today’s higher education institutions are infested with mafias out to serve their own interests through institutional politics. We are not producing future leaders and thinkers but a confused youth whose disdain for their institutions is disturbing. Surely, the civilian policy-makers could have introduced some structural changes in the last ten years? If the military establishment played a role in pre-poll rigging, why has it done so? The critics will promptly point out the military’s political and economic interests as the main reason. This argument must not be dismissed; yet, it is reductionist. Just review the last decade’s literature churned out by American and Indian think-tanks and journalistic publications, as well as US Congressional statements, and you will find a striking similarity between this and the political narrative since 2008.s A weakened military and a propped-up India can go a long way in reining in nuclear-armed Pakistan and its proxies. Moreover, CPEC has thrown a spanner in the works, be it America’s pivotal Asia policy or India’s naval strategy for containing potential Chinese regional and global influence. Obviously, there is a convergence of interest between the two powers who perceive the Pakistani military as a thorn in their side. This convergence can best be served by co-opting disgruntled and purchasable domestic elements. Indian meddling in Balochistan and Congressional statements supporting a ‘’free Balochistan’’ are not just coincidental. This is in keeping with the changed character of warfare. Throughout their power stints neither the PPP nor the PML-N ever brought up the issues of civil-military relations and Pakistan-India hostility, for a serious and sustained debate in the Parliament. If the military was preventing such a debate then a true leader would have followed in the steps of Mandela. That is the kind of stuff true democracy is made of. The point being, that just as there is no militarist solution to Pakistan-India disputes, there are no muscular means of restoring equilibrium in the civil-military relations. Only good governance could have made a dent. Choosing the most confrontational option and exacerbating existing societal divisions at a time when the military is fighting a war is equal to denying the army a level playing field. History tells us that pre-poll rigging is not beyond the unconstitutional scope of our ‘’agencies.’’ History also tells us that our traditional politicians lack the credibility to play the victim. At the end of the day, it is the people who remain deprived of a level playing field. The writer is an academic. She is Hon. Research Fellow, Birmingham University, UK and the author of Pakistan’s Strategic Choices in the 1990s (Routledge, UK: 2016) Published in Daily Times, August 19th 2018.