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PAKISTAN@70: Enter the Generals

With the ouster of prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s notorious generals are subjugating politics. The Generals have already set the stage for the next elections. It is going to be a dramatically different election—there will be no Bhutto or Sharif to contest with Imran Khan, possibly, hemmed by controversies and therefore a weak and willing candidate. There will be new faces or old faces with new masks. Most likely, there can be significant realignments with breakups and desertions eroding the two mainstream parties. The Generals are today in quiet a comfortable position as a referee rolled into team managers. Whoever wins, it will be the Generals who will rule Pakistan for some years now….writes Rifan Ahmed Khan

 

Pakistan is yet again going through a political churning which, by any account, is not going to benefit the democratic process but in all likelihood will strengthen the stranglehold of the military and their proxy groups, named terrorists and extremists, over the country and its people. This has been the story of Pakistan ever since it became a new country.

It is ironic that this political turbulence is playing out days before the country is scheduled to celebrate its Independence Day. Besides the Generals gaining strength, the events unfolding in the country clearly indicate the failure of all-round political leadership, the deep rooted corruption and political chicanery that has been fate of the people of Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has certainly not kept his promise to the people and fell to personal whims and aggrandisement. His dynastic rule and extent of corruption he and his family members have been accused of are not what people had expected from him when he returned to take over from the government of Asif Ali Zardari. Sharif accused of Zardari of being “Mr 10 per cent“, an euphemism for being corrupt, but he too could not resist the temptations of lucre and power.

But then Sharif’s failure is not his alone—it is the collective failure of the political establishment. Other political parties and their leaders are no better when it comes to propriety in conduct and attitude. The Pakistan People’s Party, once a powerful mainstream party, now remains a mere shadow of its past with its leaders, again a family enterprise, running the show from the distant comforts of Dubai or London. Imran Khan and party are not above board either, with Khan embroiled in a unseemly case or accused of being the handmaiden of the Generals.  Even if these accusations remain unproven, his goodwill and trust among the general public is not high as he would like to project. People are wary of him and his capabilities.

 

Instead, the Generals are playing the game with more nuance. Not one statement, direct or indirect, has emanated from the army. Neither has any of the `friendly` writers and commentators written to explain the Army’s views on the political goings on. The Generals are quietly watching the spectacle from the side lines and doing what they have been doing—pulling the strings quietly. For the Generals, the Sharif family getting embroiled in the Panama papers scandals presents an opportunity which they have been looking for ever since Nawaz Sharif came to power with a popular support in Punjab. The Generals were not happy with the Sharif’s political clout in Punjab and have been trying to whittle it down through various means including using Imran Khan and his party to challenge the Sharif government.

Whatever may be the outcome of this game, the Generals are in the driver’s seat. They are more likely to use this opportunity to break the Sharif family’s hold in Punjab, quite like how they broke the PPP after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The army’s role in the death of the former Prime Minister remains highly suspicious and questionable. But the Generals managed to undo the party, which once presented a strong bulwark against military dictatorship, to such an extent that it is no longer a relevant political force in the country.

This is what is likely to happen to the Sharif family and their party, PML-N. Using a malleable judiciary, the army has finally managed to corner the Sharifs, forcing them, in all likelihood, to flee, as in the past, or face criminal cases that in all probability will finish their political career. This is sure—the PMLN will no longer be the same. The signs are already out there. The new Prime Minister is not a Sharif; he may be a loyalist but as a Prime Minister he can find enough reasons, and temptations, to quietly bury the Sharif chapter before the next election in a year’s time.

The Generals have already set the stage for the next elections. It is going to be a dramatically different election—there will be no Bhutto or Sharif to contest with Imran Khan, possibly, hemmed by controversies and therefore a weak and willing candidate. There will be new faces or old faces with new masks. Most likely, there can be significant realignments with breakups and desertions eroding the two mainstream parties. The Generals are today in quiet a comfortable position as a referee rolled into team managers. Whoever wins, it will be the Generals who will rule Pakistan for some years now. Not that they have not been doing so, but this time around, with two mainstream political parties diminished and irritant leaders sidelined, the Generals need not worry about any stumbling blocks in their way. But who knows, country like Pakistan, Hafiz Saeed who has been the army’s favourite non-State actor could well be the future Prime Minister.

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